VUHS spending plan seeks voter approval

VERGENNES — Addison Northwest Supervisory Union voters on Tuesday will weigh in on a $10,026,000 Vergennes Union High School budget proposal for the 2016-2017 school year that represents a 2.23 percent cut from current spending.
In a separate article, they will be asked to support $100,000 for a capital fund to help take care of long-term building improvement and maintenance needs.
Counting that $100,000, total VUHS spending would be reduced by about $134,000, or 1.3 percent, from the current level of almost $10.26 million, assuming voters approve both measures.
Because of a number of changes that are still ongoing in the Legislature, it is difficult to predict the tax impact in ANwSU of voter support for budgets at VUHS, Ferrisburgh Central, Addison Central and Vergennes Union Elementary schools.
ANwSU officials have made two good-faith attempts at tax estimates. Because the Legislature made changes to Act 46 too late to meet publishing deadlines, tax-rate estimates in local town and school reports are too high.
ANwSU officials then recalculated based on the Act 46 revisions and released new estimates, published in the Independent, that stated rates would drop considerably in Panton and Addison and by fractions of a cent in Ferrisburgh and Vergennes, while rising considerably in Waltham. 
Then ANwSU officials learned just recently the Legislature had determined the statewide tax rate and the rate for those who pay on income, not on property value, would not raise enough money for the Vermont Education Fund, and local rates would have to be higher across Vermont. But how much higher remains uncertain.
ANwSU unification (see related story) will not reduce the local property tax burden this year, but will offer a 10-cent discount on ANwSU tax rates in the 2017-2018 tax year, plus smaller discounts in the following four years.
VUHS officials said despite the cuts they were able to preserve essential programming even with budget pressure from contracted raises, a projected 7.9 percent increase in the cost of health insurance benefits, a dramatic decline in state aid for special education, a decline in the number of equalized students that pushed per-pupil spending higher, and the need to include $254,000 in the budget to pay off part of a past special education funding shortfall.
The VUHS board left the exact nature of many cuts to VUHS Principal Stephanie Taylor and ANwSU Superintendent JoAn Canning, but some of the reductions are clear.
The biggest saving, almost $88,000, will come from eliminating the school’s in-house agriculture program. Canning said with a similar course offered at the Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center and VUHS enrollment dropping, the course became a victim of numbers as outlined in the board’s class-size policy.
Also on the administrators’ probable reduction list are not rehiring a principal’s secretary, which will save $53,700 in salary and benefits; cutting part-time English and science positions, saving about $44,000; reducing $22,000 apiece from extracurricular activities and Community Based Learning program transportation; lowering expected fuel costs by $35,000; and saving $17,500 by not hiring substitutes for custodians.
In order to stay under the original Act 46 spending threshold, the board would have had to cut $1.2 million, a move that would have meant the loss of all extra-curricular activities, including sports and the school’s fall play; music programs; a math teacher; technology purchases; and a technology specialist that helps teachers integrate the latest technology into their classrooms.
But board members declined to do so, and the tax impact of retaining those items was minimized by the Legislature’s first measures to soften Act 46.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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