Bristol-area schools curb spending, maintain programs

BRISTOL — School boards for all five elementary schools in the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union have approved 2016-2017 spending proposals that maintain level programming for students while staying within the Act 46 spending guidelines to avoid the tax penalties.
“Our goal was to look out for our taxpayers, while making sure we met the needs of the kids,” said Interim Superintendent Armando Vilaseca. “We have stayed below the state target for allowable growth based on our student enrollment, and we’ve been able to maintain our current level of programs for students so that students should not see a decline in opportunities and options available to them.
“So if I’m someone who’s wondering, ‘What’s it going to cost me?’” Vilaseca continued, “the answer is that education spending is not going to be much different than the current year, and programs for kids are staying the same.
And indeed budgets at ANeSU elementary schools have been set very close to 2015-2016 levels. Residents in Bristol and Lincoln will vote on budgets with small increases in per-pupil spending compared to this year. Voters in Monkton, New Haven and Starksboro will see per-pupil spending decline from the current year.
Vilaseca praised the efforts of the boards overseeing the five ANeSU elementary schools, saying they worked hard to approve budgets that restrained spending so that homeowners wouldn’t face the double tax penalty for spending more than what Act 46 proscribed (see related story on this page).
“The boards took this very seriously from the start and made a concerted effort to do whatever was in their power the keep the budgets at or below the allowable growth rate,” said Vilaseca. “That was their number-one priority because the last thing they wanted was for their communities to have a penalty related to school budgets.”
Bristol will see proposed overall spending rise slightly to $5,020,993, if their budget passing on Town Meeting Day, meaning per-pupil spending would rise by 1.6 percent, and Lincoln’s school spending would nudge up to $2,198,722, which represents a 2.09 percent increase in per-pupil spending.
The proposed budget of $2,813,920 at Monkton Central School would result in a 3.9 percent decrease in per-pupil spending. The proposed New Haven spending of $1,884,124 would lower per-pupil spending by even more — 6.6 percent.
The $2,921,471 Robinson Elementary School spending plan in Starksboro makes the greatest percentage reduction in per pupil spending across all ANeSU schools — 7.6 percent. (See full stories on each of the five elementary school’s spending proposals below.)
The boards, said Vilaseca, were also very careful to create budgets that affected staff as little as possible.
“Trying to keep a level staffing number was important, because if we start cutting staff then there’s going to be an impact on kids,” he said. “We have not cut any teachers.”
While no teachers have been cut in any of the elementary school budgets, there have been some changes to support staff, with some hours being trimmed from general education support at Lincoln and special education staff elsewhere being reassigned around the supervisory union.
Because special education is now under the SU umbrella, Vilaseca explained that as needs shift — as a child requiring extra support graduates from grade school to middle school, or moves out of the district or requires more or less support — personnel can be reassigned throughout the district as needed with minimal disruption to jobs and learning.
As with the Mount Abraham Union High School spending plan approved last week, Vilaseca credits the hard work of school boards, principals and teachers for arriving at budgets that took care of both kids and taxpayers.
“Overall we were looking for small reductions that would add up to more significant impacts on the budget,” he said. “And a great part of the effort here was really at the school level, the principals with their leadership teams worked hard to find those savings that would reduce the budget or keep the budget from hitting that (allowable growth) target while still maintaining programs for kids.”
Still, Vilaseca said, as is usually the case, it took a few rounds to finally arrive at the right numbers.
As with schools statewide, ANeSU schools faced a 7.9 percent hike in the cost of health insurance. But Vilaseca said that each school approached that challenge differently based on its overall health insurance costs. He noted that changes at the individual level — a couple having a first baby and moving from a two-person to a family plan or an adult child exiting a parent’s health insurance — can shift costs up and down by thousands of dollars.
Vilaseca said that cuts of around $200,000 in the superintendent’s office budget helped all ANeSU schools keep their budgets within the state thresholds. Schools have also received a bit of a cushion because of lowered fuel and electricity costs in the current year and projected lower fuel and electricity costs for next year.
Tax impacts of ANeSU budgets are currently difficult to project because of the unknowns in Montpelier, but estimates will be published before Town Meeting Day.
Voters on Town Meeting Day in Bristol will be asked to approve a 2016-2017 elementary school spending plan of $5,020,993.
This budget represents a spending of $14,739 per equalized pupil, which is a 1.6 percent increase from per-pupil spending in 2015-2016. The state set an allowable spending growth rate of 1.78 percent for Bristol Elementary. So the BES budget is well under the Act 46 guideline on increases in per-pupil spending, and property owners will not face an Act 46 tax penalty.
The budget for academic spending at Bristol Elementary for the current year — passed on the third vote in ANeSU’s tumultuous spring of 2016 — is $4,918,334.
The proposed 2016-2017 budget has no staff cuts and no program cuts. The biggest change is an outlay of $20,000 for the new Bridges math program, now being used at elementary schools around the district.
Lincoln voters will be asked to approve a 2016-2017 spending plan of $2,198,722 on March 1.
This budget represents a spending of $15,216.81 per equalized pupil, a 2.09 percent increase from the $14,902.21 per-pupil budgeted in 2015-2016. The state set an allowable growth rate of 2.10 for the Lincoln Community School. So the LCS budget is under the Act 46 guideline on increases in per-pupil spending, and property owners will not face an Act 46 tax penalty.
The budget calls for trimming hours from two part-time general support staff positions, but no other staff changes and no significant changes to programming, according to school officials.
Interim Superintendent Armando Vilaseca said that Principal Tory Riley went through the budget with her staff several times to determine where they could make a number of small cuts that would have the least impact on students. Cuts were made to consumable supplies, professional development and to expenses for the principal’s office. Outlays were reduced for building maintenance. And the school reduced its budgeted amount for fuel oil and energy, based on projections that energy prices aren’t expected to change much over the next year.
“Tory Riley and her folks really worked,” said Vilaseca. “Tory knows — she’s an experienced principal, she’s been there for a long time — she knew where she could make some reductions that would have the least amount of impact on our students.”
Riley noted that despite statewide trends, enrollment at Lincoln hasn’t varied dramatically over the past 25 years.
“Since I began working at LCS in 1990, the enrollment has fluctuated between 110 and 128 students,” Riley explained in an email to the Independent. “There’s no notable trend up or down, just regular movement within this range.”
Proposed spending of $2,813,920 at Monkton Central School in 2016-2017 would, if approved by voters, result in a spending per equalized pupil that is 3.9 percent lower than in 2015-2016.
A year ago in April, voters approved a revised 2015-2016 budget of $2,816,780, which represented spending of $15,830 per pupil. The spending per equalized pupil proposed for 2016-2017 is $15,137. The projected equalized pupil count itself has gone up dramatically for 2016-2017; the Agency of Education calculated that Monkton would see a rise from 148.90 equalized pupils in the current school year to 159.39 in 2016-2017.
Monkton is reducing special education staff because of changes in student need, but Vilaseca said that those staff members would be moved to fill special ed needs in other schools within ANeSU, “so no one is out of a job.”
“Monkton is trying to increase their summer program for kids,” Interim Superintendent Armando Vilaseca said, and has budgeted a small increase.
Demands on the 2016-2017 budget were eased because of work on the facility done in recent years. The budget line for operation and maintenance of the facility is down roughly $93,000 from 2015-2016.
In its proposed budget for 2016-2017, the Beeman Elementary School board has lowered per-pupil spending costs by 6.6 percent from the current academic year. New Haven voters are being asked to approve a budget of $1,884,124, with spending per equalized pupil set at $14,376.
The Agency of Education (AOE) had set Beeman an allowable spending growth percentage of 1.54 percent from this year’s budget.
Last year New Haven voters approved a Beeman budget of $1,821,607 that spent $15,323 per equalized pupil.
Long the smallest school in the ANeSU supervisory union, Beeman has seen a steady growth in enrollment over the past few years. According to Principal Kristine Evarts enrollment jumped from 93 students to 105 students, between the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years. Evarts says that while they do not have final projections for 2016-2017, she expects enrollment to stay at its current level.
This growth in both actual enrollment and the AOE’s equalized pupil count (93.15 for 2015-2016 and 97.43 for 2016-2017) means that alone among the five towns in ANeSU, Beeman will be adding a classroom teacher. In an email to the Independent, Evarts said the new teacher will be assigned to upper grades, four, five or six, but that at this point “it would be too early to say” how precisely that additional classroom will be configured. This year Beeman has a teacher assigned to a grade 4/5 classroom and a teacher assigned to a 5/6 classroom.
Spending to both operate and maintain the Beeman building is down $9,632 from the current year and is set at $188,483.
Interim Superintendent Armando Vilaseca noted the careful stewardship that the Beeman board has exercised over the “beautiful historic building that they love.” The current building celebrates its 75th anniversary this February. It replaced the original Beeman Academy Building, built in 1870, which was destroyed by fire in 1940.
“That board keeps a pretty close eye on that because it is an older building,” said Vilaseca. “They have about $16,000 in repairs for next year, and they, I think, do a pretty good job of staying up with things.”
The Robinson Elementary School board approved a budget that makes the greatest percentage reduction in per-pupil spending across all ANeSU schools. The Agency of Education set Robinson an allowable growth rate of 1.56 percent, and the board lowered spending per equalized pupil by 7.6 percent.
Starksboro voters will be asked to approve a school spending plan of $2,921,471 on Town Meeting Day that puts spending per equalized pupils at $15,718 for 2016-2017.
The proposed Robinson budget results in reallocating one staff person to better fit the school’s needs but that reallocation doesn’t change total hours.
Among the most important aspects of the Robinson Elementary budget are increased outlays for facility operation and maintenance, up $63,699 from 2015-2016.
Robinson needs roof repairs and repairs to the front steps. It has a 30-year-old boiler that is OK for now, said Interim Superintendent Armando Vilaseca, but needs consideration. There are also ongoing drainage problems because of how the building is sited relative to the surrounding grade.
“We are doing some work this spring,” Vilaseca said. “The drainage coming down off the hill affects the walls, affects the insulation, what else exactly it impacts I can’t say, as I’m not a builder. But we are having some work done this spring and then we’ll know more about has this work taken care of it or will it need to have additional investments next year as well.”
Reporter Gaen Murphree is at [email protected].

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