Single budget presented for all schools in Middlebury area

MIDDLEBURY — The Addison Central School District board on Monday began sailing into uncharted waters, launching what will be a month-long effort to devise a first-ever, global spending plan for the district’s nine schools for fiscal year 2018.
ACSD officials got a glimpse of their starting point: An estimate of $35,769,346 in spending to cover the combined needs of Middlebury Union middle and high schools, along with the elementary schools in Bridport, Cornwall, Middlebury, Ripton, Salisbury, Shoreham and Weybridge.
Budget planners will get a more complete picture of the ACSD’s budget status after Dec. 15. That’s when the Vermont Agency of Education is slated to provide key information to help the district calculate the tax-affecting portion of its proposed budget, which will be put to ACSD voters on Town Meeting Day next March. The fiscal year 2018 budget will cover the period from July 1, 2017, to June 30, 2018.
So for the first time, ACSD voters on Town Meeting Day will not field an individual elementary school budget and a separate proposal to cover MUMS and MUHS expenses. It will be one K-12 education budget, and of course a separate funding proposal for the Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center.
“What I see with this budget is, we’re moving from these smaller pieces to much larger pieces,” ACSD Superintendent Peter Burrows said in summarizing the new budgeting process.
It was this past March that Addison Central Supervisory Union voters in all seven member-towns approved an Act 46 referendum calling for the phase-out of all the district’s individual school boards in favor of a single panel that will govern the new Addison Central School District. That panel will make all of the major decisions for the seven elementary schools, middle school and high school — including funding through a single annual budget.
Josh Quinn, ACSD business manager, provided the board with an initial summary of proposed spending for the entire district. His current calculations call for $35,769,346 in spending throughout the district during fiscal year 2018, which would be a 2.08 percent increase, according to Quinn.
Quinn provided a budget breakdown by categories of major spending throughout the district. Those categories include $22,674,381 for student instruction; $454,454 for universal pre-K services; $1,296,689 for ACSD-related expenses associated with the Hannaford Career Center; $5,622,863 for special education; $1,117,404 for district office administration; and $786,317 for transportation. Readers can find Quinn’s compete budget report by linking to this article at addisonindependent.com.
The current budget does not anticipate any significant staffing changes district-wide, according to Burrows. The FY’18 budget reflects 165 licensed staff — including teachers, librarians, counselors and nurses — spread throughout the ACSD next year, along with approximately 45 general education paraprofessionals.
And in a budget draft rife with change, here’s another example: ACSD officials have centralized all of the district’s facilities, maintenance technology and professional development into three separate and distinct funds. In the past, those expenses have been reflected within the individual schools’ budgets.
The ACSD board will learn more tax-impact details about the draft budget at its Dec. 19 meeting. That second draft will include new information from the state on what districts should estimate for equalized per-pupil spending, and the Common Level of Appraisal (CLA). The CLA is an equalization ratio used to adjust the assessed value of property within a municipality to its estimated fair market value. Each municipality’s CLA is used to calculate its actual homestead and non-residential education property tax rates.
It should be noted ACSD  residents will reap a 10-cent reduction on the tax-affecting portion of their fiscal year 2018 school budget, a state reward for endorsing governance consolidation through Act 46. That dividend will decrease by 2 cents in each of the ensuing four years.
STATE TAX ESTIMATES
While budget planners don’t expect firm financial figures from the state until Dec. 15, Vermont Tax Commissioner Mary Peterson on Dec. 1 released some data hinting at some good news for education property taxpayers. She projected a homestead property tax yield of $10,076 (per pupil), compared to $9,701 this year. That greater yield would mean a tax decrease in districts that choose to level fund their budgets next year.
“The ($10,076) being higher means that tax rates are lower, which is good,” Quinn said.
But Quinn cautioned the $10,076 figure will likely change before all is said and done, depending on school budget proposals throughout Vermont, which will vie for limited resources. With the current funding unknowns at the state level, Quinn said forecasting the tax implications of the ACSD budget draft right now is akin to a “chasing the tail” scenario.
Quinn added the fiscal year 2018 global budget will need to absorb a combined total of $395,768 in debt service for various capital improvement projects at MUMS, MUHS, and the elementary schools in Bridport, Middlebury, Ripton, Salisbury and Shoreham.
Board members listened intently to Monday’s budget presentation, and acknowledged they — and district taxpayers — will need to adjust to seeing their school spending reflected in much broader terms.
Some board members said they believe local taxpayers will want more financial information on their individual schools as Town Meeting Day 2017 approaches.
Ruth Hardy, one of the ACSD board’s Middlebury delegates, said she believes such details will be particularly in demand during this, the first year of transitioning from autonomous school budgets to a single spending plan.
“I need more detail before I can support this budget at all,” Hardy said. “We need to be able to justify what we’re doing; unless we have more detail, we can’t. As an elected official, I need to do that to do my job.”
Board member Chip Malcolm, also of Middlebury, agreed.
“I don’t need every single piece of it, but I think it’s important for every single school to know how this is affecting them, whether it’s in a narrative-type way or not,” Malcolm said. “It’s important for us as elected people to represent the taxpayer that we know how our individual schools are going to be affected.”
Malcolm added it will be important for school officials to convey to voters that governance consolidation is not expected to dramatically affect the way students are taught.
“This is a change in organization, and not a change in that teacher-student interaction, necessarily,” Malcolm said.
PLANNED CHANGES
Still, there are some big teaching-related changes in the offing at ACSD that have nothing to do with Act 46. The ACSD board in October unanimously approved what will be a three-year effort to adopt the International Baccalaureate program within all nine of the district’s schools.
ACSD school board member Laura Lass of Salisbury urged the board to embrace the new, global nature of the ACSD school budget.
“I think what needs to happen is a shift in thinking,” Lass said. “You’re going to have a unified board, so you’re no longer responsible to just your taxpayers… It’s no longer, ‘I’m responsible to Middlebury.’ You’re responsible to all the towns. So really you need to have an understanding, more so, of all the towns, as opposed to being able to just tell people what happened in Salisbury or Mary Hogan.”
Burrows cautioned that the transition to consolidated governance won’t be accomplished in just one year.
“We see this as a phase in the process of unification,” he said of the current budget proposal. “We have many different programs, staffing patterns and many different cultures in our schools that have grown over many, many years. Part of our process over the next three to five years, as we walk down this path to unification, is talking about what are the things that are critical for all of our schools, what are the things we want to keep and hold dear for our schools that may be different from school to school.”
ACSD board Chairman Peter Conlon of Cornwall agreed.
“We are looking forward to getting more detailed information at our next meeting about local tax rates,” Conlon said. “This is really the first step in a multi-year budgeting process that strives for equity and efficiency across our unified district.”
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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