By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Local voters here on April 9 will be asked to approve a 2008-2009 Mary Hogan Elementary School budget of $5,624,785 that reflects a 2.59-percent increase in spending and restoration of an education technology position that had been cut a few years ago. If approved, the spending plan would result in an 8.4 percent property tax increase for Middlebury homeowners.
“We are excited about being able to bring this position back,” Mary Hogan Elementary Principal Bonnie Bourne said of the education technologist, a person she said will work with teachers to help students access information through computers and other equipment. The person will also advise school officials on computer infrastructure and Internet access.
Bourne explained the position was squeezed out of the budget in recent years as the school board looked for ways to cut expenses in the face of declining enrollment. The school currently serves 385 students. It was only eight years ago that 540 students attended the Mary Hogan school.
“Hopefully, our population is starting to level off,” Bourne said. “It had been going down for several years.”
While the ID-4 board is proposing to restore a technology position, it is seeking to reduce personnel costs in other areas in which student numbers continue to lag.
The proposed budget provides for one fewer second-grade teacher next year due to a smaller-than-usual incoming class. As a result, Mary Hogan school will offer three sections of the second grade, instead of the current four, according to Bourne.
The school also expects to employ fewer special education professionals next year. This is in part due to the fact that some children currently requiring such services will be moving on to Middlebury Union Middle School. Bourne also touted the success of in-school programs that have allowed fewer children to need special education services.
Bourne said there are few highlights in the budget other than the proposed addition and subtractions to personnel.
While the proposed budget increase represents a 2.59 percent increase compared to the current spending plan of $5,482,885, the effect on taxpayers will be more pronounced due to the common level of appraisal (CLA) provision of Act 68, the state’s school funding law.
In an effort to equalize the ability of all Vermont towns to raise the same amount of money per pupil, communities are assigned a “common level of appraisal.” The CLA compares local property tax assessments with the state estimation of actual market value. Towns in which property is over, or under, market value are required to adjust their education tax rate. As a result, communities that have not completed townwide reappraisals in several years are likely to see their education property tax rates increase substantially due to the CLA factor.
The proposed Mary Hogan Elementary budget is expected to require an education property tax for homesteads of 61 cents per $100 in property value. The proposed UD-3 budget (Middlebury Union Middle School and Middlebury Union High School) would add another 84 cents, for a total homestead education property tax rate of $1.145 per $100 in property value — which would represent a decrease of 1.63 percent compared to the current rate. But the “CLA” factor causes Middlebury’s homestead education property tax rate to jump by 8.4 percent, to $1.567 per $100.
Middlebury voters on April 9 will also be asked to transfer $129,974 in unreserved fund balance from 2007, into an education reserve fund. School officials hope to use some of that money to make some repairs to the cracking blacktop and drainage system at the Mary Hogan school playground.
The April 9 gathering is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at the school.