ANWSD set for vote on first unified budget

VERGENNES — On Town Meeting Day voters in Addison, Ferrisburgh, Panton, Vergennes and Waltham will vote for the first time on a unified Addison Northwest School District budget to cover operations for all four ANWSD schools and their central office, plus the district’s share of Hannaford Career Center costs.
The ANWSD board has proposed a roughly $21.1 million unified spending proposal for the 2017-2018 academic year that if approved would increase spending over the current year’s level by 1.68 percent. That proposal is slightly less than 2015-2016 district spending of $21,159,752.
Superintendent JoAn Canning said the budget maintains existing programs and staffing levels, but even though there are some personnel changes within the district there is no net addition of staff.
According to ANWSD estimates, adoption of the budget would mean school tax cuts for homeowners in four of five district communities — although officials acknowledge the Legislature can still tweak numbers late in the session.
Taking into account the 10-cent discount ANWSD will receive because residents approved unification in March 2016, assuming lawmakers accept statewide tax rates recommended by the Vermont Department of Taxes, and adjusting for each town’s Common Level of Appraisal (CLA), ANWSD officials estimated there will be:
•  A 14-cent decrease in Addison’s residential school tax rate that would translate to a $280 lower tax bill on a $200,000 home.
•  A 14.7-cent decrease in Ferrisburgh’s residential school tax rate that would translate to a $294 lower tax bill on a $200,000 home.
•  A 0.3-cent decrease in Panton’s residential school tax rate that would translates to a $6 lower tax bill on a $200,000 home.
•  A 1.3-cent increase in Vergennes’ residential school tax rate that would mean $26 more in taxes on a $200,000 home.
•  A 11.5-cent decrease in Waltham’s residential school tax rate that would translate to a $230 lower tax bill on a $200,000 home.
A year ago, lawmakers increased statewide tax rates at the 11th hour, adding a couple cents to the ANWSD estimates.
Canning said with one exception, the handful of residents who attended a Monday evening budget forum had few issues with the board and administrators’ presentation.
“There really weren’t too many questions from the community,” Canning said. “They wished we had found some way to publish more detail in the budget, because what we did was we published a one-page budget, but we have the detail on the website so people can go to the individual schools and drill down.”
At anwsu.org, there is a link to click under the easily found “The Addison Northwest School District FY 16 Annual Report and FY 18 Budget Information is now available to view online.”
Canning said some present at Monday’s meeting said they appreciated the report and its in-depth content on student performance as well as budget detail. She said also the fact the budget is not, in most cases, having an unfavorable tax impact might be leading to a quiet reception for the first ANWSD unified spending plan.
“One way I can look at this is that people are happy for the most part their tax rates are going down,” Canning said. “And that their kids are doing well in school.”
She described the plan as a “level program budget” that will allow administrators and the board to evaluate what steps to take next as ANWSD’s enrollment is expected to decline.
“We did not make any reductions in instructional staff. And we purposefully did that because we wanted to give the public the idea we want to stabilize the programs and then think longer term,” Canning said.
She added ANWSD must now think strategically because of that declining enrollment over the next couple of years.
“We have great schools and we have great teachers, and we are going to benefit in the longer term by being able to provide and maybe even expand high-quality programs for our kids. But we need the time to think through these decisions. So I think it’s important to communicate to the public that we don’t want to make sweeping changes in the first year of unification,” Canning said.
Teacher staffing levels could well be up for discussion in the future, she said.
“I think we need to consider all options. We need to consider ways to become more efficient,” Canning said. “We will continue to have staff wear a variety of hats. We can’t just be experts in just one area. We need to make sure that people can be flexible and nimble and that we can use them in a number of different ways.”
Some changes among personnel are being made. ANWSD has already replaced a retired receptionist with a human resource specialist, Vergennes Union High School athletics director Peter Maneen will see his duties expanded to coordinating elementary school activities, and a district-wide building and grounds supervisory position is being created while the job of VUHS maintenance head is being cut.
Canning said the plan is also moving ahead to merge the ANWSD food service program with Addison Northeast’s, under the direction of that district’s food head and former Ferrisburgh Central School food service director Kathy Alexander.
“It is moving forward. We have had several meetings,” she said. “We’re going to have to hire some people to work at the high school (to replace Café Service). And the staff is really excited to be working together. I think we’re going to be able to improve our food education program to students and try to expand in entrepreneurial areas to bring in revenue.”
Canning urged residents to go to the polls and to contact ANWSD board members or her ([email protected]) with questions.
“I’d like to make sure everyone gets out to vote,” Canning said. “It’s really important that we hear from community members. They can email the superintendent or contact us, and I’ll be more than happy to talk to them.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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