Budget for Bristol-area schools reflects 1% spending hike, 16 fewer employees

BRISTOL — Five-town voters on March 6 will cast ballots on a 2018-2019 public school spending plan for Addison Northeast that would result in a 1 percent increase in equalized per-pupil spending and spur some significant staffing changes within the newly created Mount Abraham Unified School District (MAUSD).
The proposed MAUSD budget reflects $24,746,279 in education spending to operate Mount Abraham Union middle and high schools; the elementary schools in Bristol, Lincoln, Monkton, New Haven and Starksboro; and the Addison Northeast central office.
The MAUSD board voted 6-4 on Jan. 23 to warn what it is referring to as the “1 percent budget” for a Town Meeting Day vote. Some of the dissenting board members had expressed a preference for a level-funded spending plan; others had lobbied for a 2.5 percent spending increase. But a majority of the panel decided the 1 percent increase and related staffing changes would allow the district to more effectively deliver education to a dwindling number of students.
MAUSD is currently spending $16,244.50 per equalized pupil. A 1 percent increase would add almost $162.45 to that number.
“We believe this budget will build and improve the capacity of our faculty and staff, and maintain the support and education needed to improve outcomes for our students,” MAUSD board Chairwoman Dawn Griswold said of the budget.
Carrying over the same MAUSD personnel and programming to the 2018-2019 school year would have required $25,679,080 in education spending, according to district Superintendent Patrick Reen. Holding to the board’s directive of a 1 percent bump in spending per equalized pupil meant chopping that $25,679,080 figure down by $932,801. To accomplish that kind of a reduction, MAUSD officials knew they’d have to cut some personnel.
“We can’t tweak our way to $1 million in savings,” Reen said.
So district leaders came up with a plan to cut 15.16 full-time-equivalent (FTE) staff positions, 11.9 FTE professional positions, and 30 percent of an administrative post. Included within that mix are 6 classroom teachers, a nurse, 8.6 FTE special education assistance, 3.16 custodial workers, 3 general education positions, and other personnel delivering services to five-town students in grades pre-K through 12.
But the budget also reflects 11 new hires, including 4 educational coaches, 3.2 FTE interventionists, 2.2 FTE special educators, a school psychologist and a 0.6 FTE coordinator.
The coach/interventionists, according to Reen, would provide a “system of support” for teachers within the classroom. The coaches would also impart some “job-embedded professional development” that teachers have historically accessed only sporadically through off-site education conferences.
Reen believes the new hires will help the district improve its services to students, even as the education funding picture gets cloudier.
“Taking the same approach with fewer resources and expecting to get improved results is probably not a wise way to go,” Reen said. “Knowing we are going to have fewer resources, we really needed to think about what we could do … to still find ways to improve outcomes for students.”
When one takes the 11 new hires into consideration, the proposed 2018-2019 MAUSD budget reflects a net reduction of 16.36 full-time-equivalent positions, including:
•  15.16 FTE support staff.
•  0.9 FTE of a professional position.
•  0.3 FTE administrator positions.
Reen believes the district might be able to make the staff cuts without handing out any pink slips as a result of retirements and people moving to other jobs. And he said qualifying staff currently serving in targeted positions will be able to apply for the newly created coach/interventionist jobs. Those applying for the educational coaching positions will need a teaching license and some teaching experience.
“It looks entirely possible that we will have sufficient attrition to cover most — and possibly all — of the reductions,” he said.
The proposed staffing cuts would raise average class size in the MAUSD from the current 16.87 to 18.4 in grades K-6, and from 18.11 to 18.66 in grades 7-12, according statistics provided by the district office.
Looking at future enrollment trends in the MAUSD, the K-6 population is expected to drop by 53, from the current 760 to 707, by 2022. The grades 7-12 population is projected to increase by 35, from the current 661 to 696, during that same period.
If passed, the proposed MAUSD budget would slightly lower education property taxes in some of the five towns in the district, while others would see a slight increase. The tax rates reflect an 8-cent rebate the district received from the state as reward for consolidating its school governance under Act 46.
The rates also reflect the Common Level of Appraisal (CLA) impact in each community. 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. Taxpayers in communities with current property values that deviate substantially from fair market (and that are consequently due for a reappraisal) will be least happy with their projected education tax rates.
It should also be stressed that the homestead education property tax rates presented here could change depending on any new tax laws/policies or revenue adjustments that could come out of Montpelier this year:
•  Bristol — 1.2-cent increase, from $1.7566 to $1.7686.
•  Lincoln — 8.7-cent decrease, from the current $1.571 to $1.4836.
•  Monkton — 2.3-cent increase, from $1.5544 to $1.5776.
•  New Haven — 5.9-cent increase, from $1.5795 to $1.6391.
•  Starksboro — 1.6-cent decrease, from the current $1.6177 to $1.601.
Griswold believes the budget is responsive to students and taxpayers, and deserves support on Town Meeting Day.
“It was important (to the board) that this proposed budget would support improved educational outcomes for students and useresources wisely to build sustainable systems in our schools and work to address issues of equity,” she said. “This budget maintains safe and efficient facilities that will support learning and instruction.”
Speaking of facilities, MAUSD voters on March 6 will also cast ballots on a revised $29.5 million renovation plan for Mount Abraham Union High School. It will be school directors’ third attempt in three years to get taxpayers’ OK for major repairs to the 50-year-old building off Airport Road in Bristol. The 30-year bond would add an estimated $69.10 in property taxes per $100,000 of assessed value, according to district officials.
District officials said they believe it wouldn’t make sense to put off repairs to the Mount Abe building.
Reen has noted an increase of just 0.5 percent in the bond bank interest rate would add another $2 million over the life of the loan. Architects have told district officials that construction costs typically increase at a rate of 4-5 percent each year.
Some residents have floated ideas for other approaches to renovation, though no solid proposals.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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