MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury Union Middle and High School officials will spend the next few weeks sharpening their pencils in an effort to reduce a draft UD-3 budget of about $16.7 million that would represent a 3.8 percent increase compared to this year’s spending plan of roughly $16.1 million.
And any major cuts will likely come with some pain, administrators noted, as a vast majority of a proposed roughly $612,000 increase is associated with fixed costs.
Addison Central Supervisory Union Business Manager Laura Nassau told UD-3 board members on Tuesday that roughly $200,000 of the increase is due to a negotiated 3-percent increase in teacher salaries, another $200,000 is being driven by a projected 14-percent increase in health insurance costs, $78,000 is related to debt service on the new MUMS roof, and more than $75,000 comes from an expected hike in heating fuel costs.
“Those are the real big ticket items that make up a large portion of the … increase,” Nassau said.
Other factors influencing the budget, according to Nassau, include special education services that are expected to decrease at MUHS but increase at MUMS, where administrators are requesting two additional paraprofessional positions to deliver services to students with special needs; and a boost in the MUMS administration budget owing to a compensation package for the former school principal, Inga Duktig, who resigned under strained circumstances this past spring.
Nassau said the draft budget holds UD-3 harmless from financial penalties that are imposed on school districts that exceed state statutes for education spending.
Those include a tax surcharge applied to school districts that see per-pupil spending in excess of 125 percent of the prior year’s statewide average, and a rule requiring school districts to limit budget increases to the rate of inflation, plus 1 percent. Districts that fail to meet that second rule must hold one vote on the portion of the budget that falls under inflation plus one percent, and then a separate vote on the portion that exceeds that amount.
But UD-3 board members noted that Nassau’s calculations assume that the tax impact of the draft $16.7 million budget will be softened by a $314,000 fund balance. Board members have been reluctant in past years to apply the entirety of fund balances to the following year’s spending plan out of a desire to keep some money in reserve for looming capital improvements and/or financial emergencies.
At the same time, UD-3 officials want to use enough of the fund balance to ensure the district doesn’t run the risk of incurring state penalties. Nassau said she expects to have more firm state aid numbers from the Vermont Department of Education next month, numbers that will give UD-3 officials better information for final budget planning.
That planning will likely bring some tough choices, as officials noted that applying the entire $314,000 fund balance to the budget is still expected to produce an increase of 8.2 percent in the UD-3 portion of residential school tax rates in Middlebury, Salisbury, Ripton, Shoreham, Cornwall, Weybridge and Bridport.
But the overall school tax rate for each town will vary depending on their respective elementary school budgets, Common Levels of Appraisal (CLAs) and other factors.
In the meantime, MUHS Principal Bill Lawson and MUMS Principal Patrick Reen promised to fine-tune their respective budgets before the board’s Dec. 4 meeting.
Lawson said the MUHS budget currently features around a 3-percent increase. He said he hopes to be able to reduce that to 2 percent through, among other things, eliminating a clerical position and possibly some of the school’s course offerings. UD-3 enrollment has been in decline, mirroring a statewide trend.
“There is some cleaning up left to do in the high school budget,” Lawson said.
Reen said that while he is not optimistic he will be able to limit the MUMS increase to 2 percent, he acknowledged, “There is some massaging (of the budget) that needs to happen.”
Reporter John Flowers is at firstname.lastname@example.org.