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Ferrisburgh town budget proposal includes new equipment

FERRISBURGH — The Ferrisburgh Central School board on Thursday adopted a budget proposal for the 2016-2017 academic year that cuts almost $155,000 from the school’s current $3.587 million spending level.
The plan the board approved for a March 1 vote calls for $3,432,273 of spending, a reduction board members said they are optimistic will help keep taxes in check.
If adopted and approved by residents in March, cuts would include the school’s part-time technology instructor and funding for technology purchases, Challenge and Spanish Enrichment programs, and funding for field trips, according to Ferrisburgh school board members on Thursday.
However, at the meeting they restored $28,000 of funds to preserve the school’s band instructor, although at a 30 percent level rather than the current 40 percent level, plus staffing for the school’s morning recess.
And an impending retirement also allowed enough savings (by hiring a newer replacement who would command a lower salary) to preserve the school’s literacy intervention specialist, they said. That literacy job had been at risk in earlier budget drafts as board members were working hard to avoid triggering Act 46 per-pupil spending penalties that would have had a major impact on the town’s tax rate.
Chairman Bill Clark said the board acknowledged that adding $28,000 back in creates some risk of triggering a dollar-for-dollar penalty.
At the meeting, Addison Northwest Supervisory Union Superintendent JoAn Canning and Rep. Diane Lanpher, D-Vergennes, were texting back and forth about the latest developments in Montpelier. There, House and Senate lawmakers are both working on amending Act 46 to provide some relief to towns like Ferrisburgh that are bumping up against the law’s per-pupil spending threshold.
As of late last week, the House was still haggling over how and whether to change the law, while the Senate was firm that the penalty should be delayed a year. The House Education Committee last supported a 0.9-percent increase in the threshold, and the Ferrisburgh school board opted to have faith that when the dust settles at least that much relief will be provided.
“(The budget) makes the assumption the Legislature might increase the caps by 0.9 percent,” Clark said.
That potential increase gave the board the $28,000 leeway. Board members said they accepted Canning’s recommendation on how to apply that $28,000, a suggestion that in turn came from a meeting Canning and Principal Joanne Taft-Blakely held with FCS staff members.
Clark said preliminary tax estimates show a low combined property tax impact in Ferrisburgh if both the FCS and Vergennes Union High School budgets are approved, assuming the 0.9 threshold increase. The Ferrisburgh selectboard on Thursday approved a municipal spending plan that would add a penny at most to the tax rate (see story on Page 14).
Officials said the central problem for the FCS board in crafting this budget has been that the school’s equalized pupil numbers are projected to drop by 20 students for the next school year. When a school has fewer students, its per-pupil costs rise even if spending is the same — in Ferrisburgh’s case, over the Act 46 threshold unless the board makes major cuts.
Helping the cause has been a projected $51,000 of savings in projected lower special education costs, but Clark said many fixed costs made this budget a challenge for the Ferrisburgh board.
“We can’t cut the heat 10 percent. We can’t cut the lights 10 percent,” Clark said. “It was an aggravating process for us.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent.com.

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