Community Forum: ACSD budget plan responsible

This piece was written by members of the Addison Central School District Board’s Finance Committee: Nick Causton of Shoreham, Ruth Hardy of East Middlebury and Steve Orzech of Middlebury.
On Monday night, we presented the first outline of the 2018-19 school district budget to the Addison Central School District Board and community. This first budget outline proposes a reduction of approximately $1.5 million in expenses and 37.4 FTE (full-time equivalent) positions, achieved through a combination of attrition, incentivized retirements, and layoffs.
The expense reductions come from a 5 percent budget decrease in non-staffing supplies, professional development, and delayed facility upgrades, as well as reductions in an administrative position at the central office, principal and teacher positions in the smaller elementary schools, paraprofessional positions at the Mary Hogan School, and licensed teacher positions at the middle and high schools.
These nearly unprecedented district-wide budget reductions are the result of two significant factors: 1) an enrollment decline of over 50 students next year; and 2) reductions in local, state, and federal revenue. In addition, the merger tax rate incentive will decline by two cents next year.
Finally, at the state level, a $94.5 million funding gap is projected for the state education fund, and school boards have been warned of potentially drastic measures being imposed on school districts that are not able to level fund education spending.
In total, without the proposed reductions, our per-pupil spending would increase above the allowable threshold, triggering a tax penalty, and the overall projected district-wide tax rate would increase by 11.4 percent.
With theses factors in mind, the Finance Committee set out to present an overall level-funded net budget proposal which emphasized 1) long-term sustainability; 2) educational equity; and 3) fiscal responsibility. We also felt it was important that we viewed the budget from the perspective of a truly unified school district that could balance the needs of students in our smaller town schools, larger elementary school, and union middle and high schools.
We analyzed existing staff assignments with the goal of creating more balanced staffing levels across the District. The bulk of the enrollment declines will be realized at the high school with the graduation of the largest class in ACSD, with the middle school also seeing enrollment declines as the smallest class in the District enters 7th grade. With such concentrated enrollment declines, reducing teaching staff is both educationally possible and fiscally responsible.
On the whole, our smaller elementary schools are facing more incremental and varying enrollment declines, enabling further combinations of graded classrooms and the reduction of 3.0 FTE teaching positions. Further, these schools have a higher number of administrative positions compared to our larger schools, enabling the creation of collaborative principal teams and a targeted reduction of administrative costs.
Finally, our largest elementary school will see no reduction in licensed teaching positions, as enrollment remains fairly steady at Mary Hogan School. While the school supports the largest class sizes in the District, we noted that the number of paraprofessional staff was disproportionate to both the staffing levels of other ACSD schools and the recommended best practices for educational staffing.
The proposed budget would add two new teaching positions, including a world language teacher shared among our four elementary schools currently without a Spanish program and an additional second-grade teacher at Mary Hogan School due to the large class of students entering that grade. Overall, these staffing changes would create enhanced staffing equity across the entire district, maintain as many licensed teachers as necessary in our classrooms, and ensure that no one school would bear the brunt of budget reductions.
In addition, the proposed budget would support a fair teaching and support staff compensation package, maintain investments in preschool and technical education, and meet our ongoing contractual agreements. The budget also benefits from savings in fuel and locally negotiated health care costs.
This has been a difficult budget to create as we navigate significant challenges and work toward compromise. While there is no doubt that educational and financial challenges lie ahead, the Committee endeavored to create balanced staffing patterns that could be adjusted incrementally going forward and would not require intensive ongoing reductions. We wanted to position our school district to be sustainable now and in the future.
Finally, the Committee strived to ensure that we were as fair as possible to our students, families, staff, and taxpayers. Tax rate increases of the magnitude possible without budget reductions are difficult for most Vermonters to absorb. In order for everyone in our community to enjoy the positive benefits of a strong public education system, we must prioritize both educational and fiscal equity and responsibility.
There is no doubt that further conversations are warranted soon about structural issues in ACSD such as grade configuration and the optimal number of schools needed to educate our children. The proposed budget is still a work in progress, and the full ACSD Board posed many questions about the impact it may have on our students.
As we continue to listen to the priorities of our colleagues and community members, as well as receive further information and data regarding our equalized pupil counts, statewide tax rates, and state and federal budget decisions, we will certainly make adjustments to the proposed budget.
Thank you for your support of our ACSD schools and students. We look forward to hearing from you, providing additional opportunities for public engagement, and crafting a final budget that is sustainable, equitable, and responsible.
Email addresses for each of the school board members are online here: www.acsdvt.org/domain/75.

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