MAUSD faces major cuts in staffing

The fewer buildings our students are in, the more efficient we can be with our staffing and the more support and services we can preserve while making staffing reductions.
— Superintendent Patrick Reen

BRISTOL — If the Mount Abraham Unified School District consolidates its five elementary schools into two, then merges with the Addison Northwest School District, it could save enough money to preserve programming and keep property taxes from skyrocketing, according to Superintendent Patrick Reen.
Those savings would come almost exclusively through staffing cuts.
In his Dec. 7 presentation to the MAUSD board, Reen estimated that the MAUSD would need to eliminate 75 to 91 positions over the next five years if, contrary to his recommendation, the district continued operating its elementary schools in their current configurations, while also attempting to keep property taxes in check.
This week Reen clarified that consolidating and merging would require the same reductions in personnel.
“Nearly all of the savings we need to find, in any scenario, will come from staffing because that is where the vast majority of our expenditures come from,” Reen told the Independent Monday. “The main difference between the scenarios is what level of support and services for students we’re left with after the staffing reductions.”
Cutting 75 to 91 positions would represent a 27% to 33% reduction of current staffing levels.

The Mount Abe district operates elementary schools in each of its five member towns of Bristol, Lincoln, Monkton, New Haven and Starksboro, plus Mount Abraham Union Middle/High School in Bristol.
Reen’s plan, proposed in two phases, would affect all five towns.
In Phase One, beginning July 1, 2022, the district would operate elementary schools in Bristol and Monkton only. Schools in Lincoln and Starksboro would be “reconfigured” into “innovation centers,” and New Haven’s school would house both the central office and an enhanced early education program. Mount Abe middle school would expand to include sixth grade.
The authority to approve Phase One lies exclusively with the school board.
In Phase Two, beginning July 1, 2023, the MAUSD would merge with the Addison Northwest School District, which serves the communities of Addison, Ferrisburgh, Panton, Vergennes and Waltham. The new district would contain both the Bristol and Vergennes union high schools, one of which would host the merged district’s 9-12 students, while the other would serve as a district-wide middle school for grades 6-8. ANWSD and MAUSD central offices would consolidate in New Haven.
Phase Two must be approved by ANWSD and MAUSD voters.

The MAUSD needs to reduce spending by more than $7 million over the next five years, according to Reen’s calculations. Depending on how the state decides to calculate equalized pupils in the future, that number could climb to nearly $9 million.
Reen’s calculations show that the district could save $7.33 million by eliminating:
•  2 of 8 (25%) of building administrators.
•  50 of 178 (28%) of licensed educators.
•  23 of 91 (25%) of support staff.
These 75 positions represent 27% of the current workforce, according to Reen.
Average compensation (salary and benefits) for those positions is $97,784.
If the equalized-pupil formula further reduces MAUSD revenue, the district could save $8.72 million by eliminating:
•  2 of 8 (25%) of building administrators.
•  57 of 178 (32%) of licensed educators.
•  32 of 91 (35%) of support staff.
These 91 positions represent 33% of the current workforce, according to Reen.
Average compensation for those positions is $95,756.

As reported recently by the Independent, Addison Northwest School District Director of Finance and Operations Elizabeth Jennings has estimated the ANWSD could save more than $3 million by merging with the MAUSD.
That savings would be achieved by eliminating 41 ANWSD staff positions.
About 30 district staff would be eliminated from Ferrisburgh Central School, the Vergennes elementary, middle and high schools, and the county’s alternative education hub, the Addison Wayfinder Experience (housed at the former Addison Central School). Another 11 jobs would be eliminated from the ANWSD central office.
Jennings suggested more savings could be achieved by consolidating sports and co-curricular programs.

MAUSD has eliminated 37 positions over the past five years, according to the Oct. 27 school board meeting minutes — a far slower pace of reduction than Reen suggests pursuing now, but not an insignificant number, either.
The problem with reducing staff, whether at an average of 7, 15 or 18 per year — while also operating five elementary schools — is that eventually educators will be spread too thin across too many buildings, Reen suggested.
Which is why he has proposed reducing the number of elementary schools from five to two.
“Essentially, the fewer buildings our students are in, the more efficient we can be with our staffing and the more support and services we can preserve while making staffing reductions,” he told the Independent on Tuesday.

The alternative to cutting staff would be allowing education property taxes to balloon, Reen said.
According to the superintendent’s projections, the roughly 33% of district homeowners who pay taxes based on the value of their homes would see an average annual tax increase of $247 to $297 — per $100,000 of home value — through 2026. For a home valued at $250,000 this would amount to an annual increase of $617 to $742.
The two-thirds of taxpayers whose bills are income-sensitized would see smaller increases.
A family earning the median Addison County household income of $65,093 would see average annual tax increases of $255 to $303 through 2026.
Laying off 75 to 91 MAUSD staff would keep educational property taxes lower.
A $250,000 home would see an average annual tax increase of $89, if paid based on home value.
Homeowners with median household incomes would see an annual average increase of $29.

At the MAUSD Facilities Feasibility Study Subcommittee’s Nov. 2 meeting, Reen provided some details about how possible layoffs might proceed.
“We have a district-wide seniority list, so the way it would work is that if we had to have layoffs — say we had to lay off 20 teachers, it would be the least senior 20 teachers, regardless of what school they’re in,” he told his fellow subcommittee members. “So even if we closed two schools and that resulted in that 20 layoffs, it isn’t that those teachers in those two schools are the ones that lose their jobs…. It’s possible that Starksboro could close and every teacher at Starksboro keeps their job.”
They’d just be reassigned to different schools, Reen explained.
According to the MAUSD 2020 Annual Report, there were at least 146 full-time equivalent (FTE) elementary school staff last school year:
•  62 special educators, instructional coaches, behavior assistants, interventionists, communication facilitator specialists, speech language pathologists, enrichment leaders, general education assistants and psychologists.
•  47.9 teachers.
•  8.5 facilities and custodial staff.
•  7.8 food service staff.
•  7.6 administrative support staff.
•  4.4 principals.
•  4.1 librarians.
•  3.2 school counselors.
•  1.8 nurses.
With 2019-20 K-6 enrollment of 79 in New Haven, 260 at Bristol Elementary, 107 in Lincoln, 132 in Monkton and 126 in Starksboro, there were approximately five K-6 students per staff member.
According to the same report there were at least 105 FTE middle/high school staff last year, including:
•  55.3 teachers.
•  17 special educators, interventionists, behavior assistants, instructional coaches and social workers.
•  9.5 administrative support staff.
•  6.8 food service staff.
•  5 facilities/custodial staff.
•  3 school counselors.
•  2 librarians.
•  2 nurses.
•  2.8 principals.
•  1.72 athletics staff.
With an enrollment of 636 at Mount Abe in 2019-20, there were approximately six 7-12 students per staff member.
It was not immediately clear in the annual report whether an additional 17.33 FTE positions belonged to the elementary or secondary schools.

The MAUSD board planned to convene virtual public forums on Wednesday, Dec. 16, at 9 a.m. and on Thursday, Dec. 17, at 6 p.m. The Independent will report on those forums in the future.
In addition, the MAUSD Community Engagement Committee will survey district residents on how they view Superintendent Reen’s recommendations, and will release the survey results sometime in the new year.
In late January, the MAUSD board will need to decide if it wants to include items on the 2021 Town Meeting ballot.
The creation of a ballot item might spur further district-directed community engagement in February.
In 2021 Town Meeting Day is March 2.
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected].

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