ANWSD eyes level-funded budget with staffing cuts

VERGENNES — The Addison Northwest School District board on Wednesday leaned toward adopting a level-funded $21.1 million spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
It’s a budget that ANWSD officials said would mean elementary school and support staff personnel cuts, but would also maintain educational programming and limit a property tax increase to less than the 9.4 cents expected statewide.
The board will meet again at 6 p.m. this coming Wednesday to discuss the budget for all four ANWSD schools: Vergennes Union elementary and high schools, and Addison and Ferrisburgh central schools.
At the Jan. 10 meeting, to be held again in the VUHS library, the board is also expected to adopt a Town Meeting Day article asking voters to approve a $7.6 million capital improvement bond. The board must adopt that proposal this week if it is to meet Town Meeting Day warning deadlines, board members said.
That bond would pay for energy-efficiency, safety and security projects at the four schools and is projected, according to ANWSD officials, to be “revenue neutral” because of energy savings, especially at VUHS.
Almost $4.9 million of bond funds would be devoted to VUHS, including replacing the failing VUHS heating and ventilation system and its controls, and installing a solar array on its roof.
The district-wide cost savings would be $200,000, according to the design firm, Energy Efficient Investments. Officials said those savings would offset any interest-only payments that would be due until the bond that funded the 2000 VUHS renovation and expansion is paid off in 2020.
Board members said they had to educate residents both of the importance of the energy and security improvements and of the cost-effectiveness of the proposal.
“This work is vital, and this is the best way to pay for it,” said Chairwoman Sue Rakowski, and board member Finn Yarborough added, “It’s really important for us to communicate the revenue-neutral nature of that bond.”
On the budget side, Superintendent JoAn Canning and business manager Elizabeth Atkins on Wednesday presented both “level-program” and “level-funded” budget plans, as the board had requested.
They quickly moved on from a level-program budget proposal that would have required a 2 percent spending increase of about $429,000, putting the district over the per-pupil spending threshold at which the state would impose a tax penalty, and triggered a major tax increase.
Instead, Canning and Atkins took advantage of what they recently learned was a projected drop of roughly $230,000 in special education costs for the 2018-2019 school year, and combined that with personnel cuts to recommend the level-funded, $21.1 million budget.
Canning said it would meet both students’ needs and district goals.
“We believe we will be able to maintain our commitment to implementing the board’s policies and the quality of programs,” she said.
Under the level-funded budget, Atkins said per-pupil costs are projected to be $17,756, under the state threshold of $17,816 at which districts would be penalized for excessive spending.
According to a meeting handout, ANWSD will lose 40 students next year, a 4 percent drop in enrollment. At the same time some spending additions were necessary in areas that were under-budgeted in the current budget, notably health care, retirement contributions and workers’ compensation.
The handout described the teaching reductions as a drop “from 29 classroom teachers to 26 at the elementary level,” and said they were “due to the class size policy.” Canning said at least some of those reductions will be “through attrition,” or teacher retirements.
The handout described another list of reductions as proposed “to get to (the) level funded budget:”
•  “0.55 FTE (full-time equivalent) Elementary Professional Positions.”
•  “3.2 FTE Support Staff Positions.”
•  “0.6 Administration Positions.”
Canning said exact jobs to be eliminated would be revealed at this week’s meeting because the proposal had not yet been discussed with the employees.
Yarborough, the school board member, said the reductions to support staff, faculty and administrators were proportional, and the district would not be “top heavy” with administrators.
According to Canning and Atkins the level-funded budget was prepared about a month after the level-program budget, and it includes some new spending not in the earlier budget.
For example, Atkins said administrators are proposing to include replacing a retiring custodian with a licensed electrician, which would cost more in the budget but save money by not having to contract out electrical work. Other changes included a small amount of money for teacher recognition.
Board members asked Canning and Atkins for a list of those changes for them to review at their meeting this week. The board is also scheduled to meet on Jan. 17, when members hope to adopt the budget proposal. A Jan. 24 meeting is tentatively scheduled if the board cannot complete its budget work before then. 

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