Community Forum: Mary Hogan budget a win-win
This week’s writer is Ruth Hardy, chair of the ID-4 school board in Middlebury.
I love to contemplate education finances. I’ve been doing this for much of my career, and this past year has been an exciting one in which to figure out how school budgets, our tax rates, and most importantly, funding for our students may be affected by the many moving parts of school finance in Vermont.
I spent the summer building a financial model to demonstrate the consequences of unification on each of our eight Addison Central Supervisory Union school districts. I analyzed enrollment trends, staffing levels, debt service, revenue streams, and program costs. I wanted to be able to give our citizens a clearer picture of the implications of school district reorganization.
What I found is that unification will be financially beneficial for all of our school districts, albeit some more than others. What I also found is that Mary Hogan School is in the sweet spot. And thus, so am I. I am so lucky to be the Chair of the ID-4 Mary Hogan School board.
Our board is proud to present a budget that both expands services for all preK-6 students and reduces property taxes for our citizens. It is a rare opportunity to be able to achieve both.
The 2016-2017 budget features an 11 percent increase in equalized pupils, yet only a 6.7 percent overall increase in expenses, resulting in a 1.65 percent decrease in relevant per pupil spending, well below the spending threshold required by state law. The ID-4 per pupil spending of $14,251 is below the state average and the lowest in ACSU, yielding a 1.2% decrease in the estimated homestead property tax rate for Middlebury.
The budget provides 10 hours per week of preschool education for all 3- to 5-year-old children who attend approved preschool programs, extending our existing partnerships with private providers, Head Start, and ACSU early essential education. This expansion, required by state law, is a significant driver in both the increase in spending and equalized pupils outlined in the ID-4 budget, and a substantial benefit to young children and their families who need affordable early childhood education.
We have also seen a healthy increase in K-6 students, which, combined with several teacher retirements, has enabled the board to provide funding to both create a grades 3-6 Spanish Language Program and support a full-time behavioral interventionist for students most in need of additional support. The board has been preparing for six years for the right time to commence a world language program, and I am thrilled to be able to finally move forward with this essential 21st-century program.
Finally, the budget provides funding for facility needs, including the next phase of energy-efficient window replacements and a building monitoring system that enables off-site access to ensure maximum safety and efficiency. These improvements are largely offset by savings in fuel and utility costs.
Our students and taxpayers in Middlebury are fortunate to benefit from our excellent elementary school that provides a quality education to over 450 students. We benefit immensely from our dedicated staff, breadth of programming, diversity of students, supportive families, and that financial sweet spot — economies of scale. I am hopeful voters in all ACSU towns will support the unification of school districts so each student can have access to the opportunities that our students do.
The ID-4/Mary Hogan School annual meeting will be on Monday, Feb. 29, at 6 p.m. in the Municipal Gym. We will discuss the elementary school budget and ACSU unification proposal immediately before town meeting. Our budget vote will be the following day, March 1, by Australian ballot, along with other local ballot questions and the presidential primary vote. You can find a copy of the ID-4 Annual Report at www.acsu.org/Page/234.
We are honored to serve a community that values education and invests in its schools. We look forward to hearing from you and answering your questions. Thank you for your support of the students and families of the Mary Hogan School. See you on Leap Day!