Thursday January 16, 2014
When the preliminary FY15 budget was presented to the school board December 18, it showed an almost 12 percent increase in the tax rate. After comments and concerns from the board reflected a desire to identify where appropriate cuts could be made, Business Manager John Stewart and Superintendent David Young came to the January 8 meeting with deep revisions to the proposed budget.
The administration worked to reduce total expenditures so that the increase in spending is now 3.22 percent over the FY14 budgeted amount. This reflects a reduction of $622,402 from the initial draft of the proposed budget presented December 18. Although the cuts range from adjusting terms of bus leases to field trip funds at Orchard School, the largest cuts came in the areas of administrative support at Chamberlin School ($77,600) and a reduction in contractual services for special education ($75,061). One budget reduction from the high school, which amounts to $62,080 for tuition payments to vocational tech centers, was made since far fewer students have been enrolling in the tech center programming. This is due, in large part, to the launch of the Big Picture Program 5 years ago, which keeps students interested in alternative programming on-site at the high school. This is just one example of how the district is leveraging an investment to contribute to overall budget efficiency.
What would this proposed tax increase mean for you? The administration’s recommended 3.22 percent increase in spending would result in an 8.5 percent increase in the residential tax rate. Of the 8.5 percent, the state factor is 5.64 percent, due to increases in the Vermont residential tax rate, coupled with the base education amount per pupil increase. Two-thirds of the increases are due to state changes; one-third is attributed to changes in the district budget. Prior to factoring in income sensitivity, the residential property tax impact would equate to a $420 increase on a $326,000 home and a $290 increase on a $225,000 condo.
When one looks at the district-wide expenditures individually, it can be seen that many items have remained on, or close to par with FY 14. One major increase, however, comes from life insurance expenses(increase from $70,649 to $91,520) since the policy is set up so that employees over the age of 65 receive full benefits. Another area of increased expenditure is in computers. This line item is increasing from $329,954 in FY 14 to $457,823 in FY 15 which equates to a 38.75 percent change. IT network updates and maintenance are seeing a smaller, but notable increase from $368,308 to $393,885, a 6.94 percent increase.
A breakdown of local revenues (Federal funds over and above taxes) shows that reimbursement for special education transportation and services continues to decline. From FY 14 ($1,233,250) to the FY 15 ($1,102,950) budget, there has been a decrease of 10.57 percent.
One request the board made at the last meeting was to look at the effect a zero percent tax increase would have on the district. According to an administrative report, the impacts would be drastic. First, it would involve cutting $1.4 million from the budget. Some of the key school programming components that would be eliminated (among many others) would be the Big Picture and advanced placement programs, and all freshmen and junior varsity sports as well as multiple clubs. Perhaps the most startling effect of these actions, aside from adverse impact to students, would be that the district would have to resign from the New England Consortium of Secondary Schools’ League of Innovative Schools due to cuts in programming. In addition, substantive changes such as those listed would need to be reported to the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) which could result in the district falling out of compliance with NEASC standards. This, would in turn, place the school’s current accreditation in jeopardy.
“We have been whittling away at programs statewide, but haven’t found a way to fund ourselves yet,” Young said.
After absorbing the 25 pages of facts and figures, board member Dan Fleming said that he would like to look into how well the district is spending their money in order to better identify efficiencies in the future.
The board is scheduled to take action on the proposed budget at the January 15 meeting (after The Other Paper goes to press). In the meantime, members are going to collect their thoughts and questions and submit them to both John Stewart and David Young.
Draft language for re-purposing the 2006 bond for the purpose of making facility improvements to the District’s schools will also be presented at that time. A bond vote could be on the March ballot if it is approved by the school board on January 15.
SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent