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Mt. Abe seeks to maintain prorams

BRISTOL — On Town Meeting Day, March 1, voters in the five Addison Northeast Supervisory Union towns will decide on a $13,389,914 proposed Mount Abraham Union High School spending plan for the 2016-2017 school year. That budget represents a roughly 1 percent decrease in total spending from the current year’s $13,947,738 budget that voters approved on a third vote last June.
At the Tuesday, Feb. 23, MAUHS annual meeting, Interim Superintendent Armando Vilaseca stressed that this year’s Mount Abe budget, while bare bones, cut spending and protected taxpayers from the Act 46 tax penalties while maintaining level programming for students.
“This year the board and administration has done a great job of maintaining the programs for students while reducing the overall budget,” said Vilaseca.
He went on to note that “the challenge that the board faced this year was how do we address the fact that enrollments are going down while still trying to maintain services for all students.”
Given the different ways that the Agency of Education calculates student numbers, Mount Abe’s student body could be said to be stabilizing or declining. Actual students enrolled on Oct. 1, 2015, were counted at 661. Actual enrollment is projected to go up to 671 for 2016-2017. The equalized pupil count, however, is going down from 795.41 in 2015-2016 to 743.48 in 2016-2017. As Tuesday night’s discussion highlighted time and again, this little understood number — “equalized pupils” — is one the state arrives at by, in simplified terms, balancing grade level and different categories of need, such as income level and being an English language learner, and then averaging differing categories of enrollment figures over two years.
Vilaseca also stressed that the board worked hard to keep the budget under the Act 46 allowable growth percentage and thus avoid Act 46 education tax penalties.
“We were given a target through Act 46 of a 1.35 percent increase prior to the change, so the board from the beginning was very much aware and looking at staying below that cap while still maintaining programs for students,” Vilaseca said at Tuesday’s annual meeting in Bristol.
He also emphasized that the board was partly able to maintain programs, cut the budget by roughly half a million dollars, and avoid the Act 46 tax penalties because there was a surplus to carry forward.
The warning for the Mount Abe annual meeting pegged spending per equalized pupils at $15,610, a 1 percent increase from the 2015-2016 budget. An updated worksheet from ANeSU Chief Financial Officer Howard Mansfield available at Tuesday’s meeting put per pupil spending for 2016-2017 at $15,319.
On Jan. 30, legislators raised the Vermont school spending threshold by 0.9 percent for all schools statewide, bringing the Mount Abe allowable threshold to 2.25 percent, and limited the tax penalty for going over the cap to 40 percent for every dollar over the amount. Both before and after the change in legislation, the proposed budget avoids the Act 46 tax penalties.
Mount Abe Interim Principal Carol Fenimore reinforced Vilaseca’s message of trying to maintain and do more on a bare bones budget.
“We wanted to be sure that we could offer just as much as in prior years and if anything take the faculty that we have and be able to improve our service to the students,” Fenimore said. “What was very clearly important was not to reduce staff. It’s all about how we deploy our faculty. We have the same faculty, they’re working really hard, and we’re doing what we can for kids with new ways to reach them. And I find that our faculty are very open to doing more for kids.”
At press time, homestead tax rates were still up in the air statewide, as the Agency of Education continues to await clarification from legislators on how Act 46 affects the “property dollar equivalent yield” used to calculate the homestead rate.
Voting by Australian ballot on the 2016-2017 Mount Abe budget and on Mount Abe school directors will take place in each of the five ANeSU towns on Town Meeting Day, March 1, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Contact your town clerk for the place of voting.
Copies of the Mount Abe 2015 Annual Budget Report with the Proposed 2016-2017 Budget can be found at any of the ANeSU school offices, town clerk’s offices, at the ANeSU central office in Bristol, as well as online at www.anesu.org/district-reports.
Reporter Gaen Murphree is at gaenm@addisonindependent.com.

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