VUES budget calls for 1% boost

VERGENNES — The Vergennes Union Elementary School board on Monday adopted a $4.75 million spending plan that school officials said if approved on March 1 would preserve educational programming and slightly lower VUES spending’s impact on property tax rates in Vergennes, Panton and Waltham.
It would also, if backed by voters on Town Meeting Day, increase VUES spending by 1.05 percent, or about $50,000.
Officials also said the proposal avoids any penalties for excess per-pupil spending under Act 46, regardless of how they are calculated — something that came into question at the Legislature late last week — or whether they are imposed right away, something on which the Vermont House and Senate are disagreeing.
A fund balance that VUES is projected to enjoy at the end of this school year is helping the VUES board reach all those goals.
Addison Northwest Supervisory Union officials on Monday told the board that a draft audit projects the fund balance to be slightly more than $200,000, but that figure is larger than they had expected.
They recommended the board use about $140,000 toward keeping programs, controlling the tax rate, and reducing the school’s food-service deficit, and said if any cash remained it should go toward a needed $40,000 roofing project and then possibly cutting that food-service deficit further.
The board reached consensus on that approach.
“If more money is available, I am comfortable with this,” said board member Cheryl Brinkman.
Principal June Sargent said the budget maintained several items that had potentially been on the chopping block, including two of the school’s three math interventionists (a teacher and an aide), field trips, a receptionist, a crossing guard and iPads.
“I feel really comfortable with this budget,” Sargent said.
The board retained the math interventionists in the budget by electing to replace a retiring classroom teacher rather than moving one of the math specialist teachers into that classroom, as an earlier budget draft had suggested.
The math intervention program was just expanded for the current school year to address longstanding issues identified by standardized testing, Sargent said on Tuesday.
Sargent said at the Monday meeting she did make spending cuts in some areas, such as supplies and technology, by looking carefully at actual usage patterns.
“I based it on a history of expenditures rather than on a history of budgeting,” she said.
About a dozen staff members had attended the board’s Jan. 5 meeting, and they lobbied against cuts. On Monday, only one resident attended, John Stroup, and he thanked the board for keeping students in mind.
“Thank you for your advocacy these past few weeks,” Stroup said.
The VUES board and other ANwSU boards had considered moving budget votes from Town Meeting Day to a later date to allow residents to cast ballots while knowing how the ANwSU unification vote had turned out and whether and how the Legislature had dealt with Act 46 spending penalties.
Both those issued could influence budget votes, officials said, because unification will bring a 10-cent decrease in tax rates in 2017 if approved, and a delay in Act 46 caps would mean a major reduction in the tax impact of the Vergennes Union High School budget.
But ANwSU Superintendent JoAn Canning said after receiving legal advice she is no longer recommending that delaying tactic.
“It’s very, very complicated,” she told the VUES board.
However, Canning said Rep. Diane Lanpher, D-Vergennes, is introducing a bill into the Vermont House that would allow communities voting on unification to move school budget votes to between April 15 and May 15.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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