All school budgets in Addison County get voter OK

ADDISON COUNTY — Reflecting a statewide trend that saw the vast majority of school budgets pass in Town Meeting votes, all four of the proposed Pre-K-12 budgets that will serve Addison County students during the 2018-2019 school year passed comfortably through Australian ballot voting on Tuesday.
Statewide, 96 percent of school budgets were approved on Town Meeting Day with 135 budgets approved and only five — Alburgh, Cabot, Fletcher, Green Mountain Unified and North Hero — defeated. (Two school budgets were still being counted at press time, and 20 others will vote on their budgets at a later time.)
This is the first year that all three of the Addison County’s newly consolidated school districts (plus Brandon’s OVUU) proposed single, Pre-K-12 budgets to their respective voters. Here’s how they fared on Town Meeting Day:
•  The Addison Central School District (ACSD) spending plan of $36,762,479 passed, 1,674-523.
•  The Mount Abraham Unified School District (MAUSD) budget of $28,343,828 won approval, 1,734-1,231.
•  Addison Northwest School District (ANWSD) residents backed a $21.1 million budget by a 952-551 spread.
•  The $19,243,835 Otter Valley Unified Union (OVUU) school budget earned a 772-356 endorsement.
•  The Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center budget of $3,468,524 was OK’d, 4,686-2,027.
Most of the budgets were level-funded, or close to it. School directors — dealing with declining enrollment and calls to tighten the reins on education spending — advanced plans that reflected fewer teachers, paraprofessionals and staff.
The $36,762,479 ACSD budget passed on Tuesday reflects a 1.32-percent spending decrease, will result in elimination of more than 20 full-time-equivalent jobs, and spells an end to the district’s long running alternative education program.
It’s a 2018-2019 spending plan that will subsidize the elementary schools in Bridport, Cornwall, Middlebury, Ripton, Salisbury, Shoreham and Weybridge, as well as Middlebury Union Middle and High Schools.
“We are very gratified to have this strong support and confidence from the voters,” ACSD board Chairman Peter Conlon said of Tuesday’s results. “This year’s budget required some tough decisions and difficult cuts.”
The proposed MAUSD budget reflects $24,746,279 in education spending to operate Mount Abraham Union Middle and High Schools, and the elementary schools in Bristol, Lincoln, Monkton, New Haven and Starksboro.
School leaders have created 11 new positions within the budget, including 4 educational coaches, 3.2 full-time-equivalent interventionists, 2.2 FTE special educators, a school psychologist and a 0.6 FTE coordinator.
Ultimately, the spending plan will result in a 1-percent increase in equalized per-pupil spending, but will require a net reduction of 16.36 full-time-equivalent positions, including 15.16 FTE support staff, 0.9 FTE of a professional position, and 0.3 FTE administrator positions.
While MAUSD leaders got good news Tuesday evening on the 2018-2019 budget, they learned a bond proposal to make major repairs to Mount Abraham Union High School had again failed (see related story, Page 1).
“On behalf of the MAUSD board, we are thrilled that the first unified budget has passed,” MAUSD board Chairwoman Dawn Griswold said in an email. “We are very grateful and appreciative to the community for their support of our 5-Town students. This operating budget will support learning and instruction and improve outcomes for our students and this vote of approval will allow our administration and staff to begin planning for fiscal year 2019.”
The approved $21.1 million budget pares $10,000 from current spending, eliminates three teachers and about four other full-time jobs, and reduces the hours of two principals and one assistant principal.
ANWSD Board Chairwoman Sue Rakowski said the board was pleased with the backing of “a substantial majority” of voters — in percentage terms, the margin was 63.3 to 36.7.
“We thank our communities for supporting public education and making it possible for us to preserve all student programming and create more equitable access K-6 to the arts, physical education and athletics,” Rakowski said in an email. “We understand that declining student enrollment is putting pressure on taxpayers and we will continue to work diligently to identify creative and efficient ways to provide excellent educational opportunities at a cost that is affordable.”
The spending plan, because of a higher statewide school tax rate and declining ANWSD enrollment, could raise residential school tax rates by about 8 cents in the five district communities — a year after rates dropped by more than that in Addison, Ferrisburgh and Waltham and were stable in Vergennes and Panton.
Superintendent JoAn Canning said the teaching cuts are being made at Ferrisburgh and Addison central schools because low enrollment at those schools allow classes there to be combined. FCS enrollment is expected to decline from about 150 to 126 or 127, while ACS remains at 61, down from historically higher numbers.
Because the three teachers with the least seniority in ANWSD work at Vergennes Union Elementary School, two FCS teachers and one ACS teacher will move to VUES. Teacher retirements in the next month could allow Canning to make personnel moves without giving teachers pink slips.
The cuts to the principals’ hours —moves to which some parents objected — are to those of Beth Brodie at FCS and Travis Park at ACS. Their positions will be reduced to 80 percent; they will remain fulltime during the academic year, but not work during the summer. The VUHS assistant principal position will also be reduced to 80 percent.
Canning noted a statewide memo from Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe suggesting only schools of 179 students or more should have full-time principals.
The OVUU budget represents a roughly $530,000 cut in spending from the current budget, owing to a number of moves at the state level that resulted in the district being underfunded by over $300,000.
All of those factors led to a $1.6 million budget shortfall for the 2018-19 school budget and a projected double-digit local tax hike. But because so many districts across Vermont kept their budget increases well under 3 percent, that tax hike will now be more like 5 to 8 cents.
Originally, Rutland Northeast Superintendent Jeanne Collins was tasked with finding $769,000 in cuts at the RNeSU Board’s request.
Collins was thrilled with the passage of this difficult budget on the first try.
“I felt there was a lot of support in the communities,” she said. “I thought the OVUU board’s work was thoughtful with an eye on sustainability. Getting to sustainability through change is painful, but without change you can’t get to sustainability and change is hard.”
Under the approved budget, the district’s three small schools will consolidate. Collins said Whiting will become a pre-kindergarten, Leicester will serve kindergarten through grade 4, and Sudbury will serve 5th- and 6th-graders.
The plan saves $210,000, with a reduction of three teachers across the three small schools.
There was a plan to reduce staffing at Otter Valley Union by 3.5 teachers through attrition, meaning those teachers were leaving or retiring and not being replaced. But with a projected increase in enrollment of 40 students at the OV Middle School this fall, the OVUU board requested adding back one full-time teacher in the middle school. How that teacher will be used has not been decided, Collins said.
OVUU will also see a reduction of one year-round clerical position.
The approved, $3,468,524 Patricia Hannaford Career Center budget is the lowest in seven years. While it represents a slight spending reduction, it does reflect a 6.47-percent increase in the tuition cost for enrolled students.
The PHCC offers vocational and technical education to students from the Addison Central, Mount Abraham and Addison Northwest unified school districts.
The PHCC’s current tuition cost is $20,162 per full-time-equivalent student. The state covers $8,236 of that amount, while a local assessment of $11,926 makes up the balance. The total tuition cost per full-time-equivalent student will go up to $21,466 for 2018-2019. Each FTE student slot will carry a local assessment of $12,889, with the state picking up the remaining $8,567.
Career Center officials said the rise in tuition is being driven, in large part, by declines in both enrollment and revenue.
There was only one true contested election for the union district school board posts up for grabs on March 6.
In that race, for a spot on the MAUSD board, Lincoln residents picked Sara McClain over Annie Svitavsky, 321-113.
Another “race” for the MAUSD materialized in Bristol, where both Kevin Hanson and Krista Siringo accidentally filed for a three-year term, leaving another available spot — with no takers — on the ballot. Hanson won the three-year term, leaving Siringo available for an appointment to the MAUSD vacancy.
As the Addison Independent went to press, officials were still sorting out other vacancies on the MAUSD board, some of which will require appointments.
Four candidates ran at-large for the ACSD board. Elected were incumbent Peter Conlon of Cornwall, Devina Desmarais and Margaret “Peg” Martin of Middlebury, and Jori Jacobeit of Shoreham.
Addison Northwest voters also elected four members to their unified board. Earning approval on Tuesday were Finn Yarborough and Kristina Makulin of Ferrisburgh, Mark Koenig of Vergennes and Laurie Childers of Addison.
There were not enough write-in votes for a single candidate from Goshen on Town Meeting Day to fill the OVUU Goshen seat. But Brandon picked Barry Varian to an OVUU seat, Becky Bertrand was returned to her Whiting seat, and OVUU Board Chairperson Bonnie Bourne was re-elected from Pittsford.
Greg Bernhardt was re-elected as an at-large candidate to the OVUU board.
Reporters Andy Kirkaldy and Lee Kahrs contributed to reporting for this story.
John Flowers is at [email protected].

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