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Staff cuts averted in proposed UD-3 budget

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By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — The UD-3 school board on Tuesday endorsed a proposed 2007-2008 budget of $14,341,552, a spending plan that preserves two staff positions and approximately $57,000 in school furnishings and new computer equipment that had been eliminated under a previous budget draft the panel considered on Nov. 28.

The UD-3 budget includes the anticipated costs of running Middlebury Union High School and Middlebury Union Middle School. Those schools serve secondary school-age children in the Addison Central Supervisory Union (ACSU) towns of Bridport, Cornwall, Middlebury, Ripton, Salisbury, Shoreham and Weybridge.

Preliminary estimates indicate that ACSU-member towns would see their UD-3 assessments increase by a low of 0.83 percent in Shoreham, to a high of 12.1 percent in Weybridge, if voters approve the proposed spending plan on Town Meeting Day next March. Assessments are based on enrollment counts at MUHS and MUMS.

ACSU Superintendent Lee Sease explained that during the past week the UD-3 spending plan benefited from new information on health insurance rates; clearer enrollment projections; better-defined special education revenues; and word that the Vermont Department of Education had raised the average statewide per-pupil expenditure level by $79.

“Since the last board meeting, we have been able to adjust all of these numbers to our advantage,” Sease said. “These factors allowed us to lower our per-pupil expenditure, while at the same time restoring” items that had been trimmed in the previous budget draft.

Those trimmed items included:

• A school-based clinician, who works with special needs children at the high school. The district currently contracts with the Counseling Service of Addison County for two-and-a-half clinician positions. The UD-3 board on Tuesday restored $30,000 to preserve the program.

• A 40-percent driver’s education position at the high school. There are currently 1.4 such positions at the high school. The UD-3 board on Tuesday restored $25,000 to the budget to keep the 40-percent driver’s education position.

• $168,000 in various supplies, travel expenses, computer equipment and furniture at MUHS. Those cuts also reflect savings MUHS will realize by hiring a new teacher to temporarily replace a more senior teacher who will be on extended leave next year. The UD-3 board on Tuesday restored $30,000 for replacement computers, and another $27,425 to replace some worn chairs, desks and science lab tables.

Still absent in the budget approved on Tuesday is the MUHS drafting program. But UD-3 officials noted plans by the Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center (PHCC) to absorb that program, and its full-time teaching position, within its curriculum next year.

“(PHCC Director Lynn Coale) said he intends to incorporate that program in his budget without increasing his budget,” MUHS Principal Bill Lawson said. “He’s identified savings that will allow him to do that.”

“It’s absolutely important,” UD-3 board Chairman Tom Beyer said, of the drafting program.

“It’s wonderful when we have a win-win situation,” he added, of the prospect of the PHCC taking over the program.

Sease had asked MUMS and MUHS to adhere to a spending limit of 123 percent of the state average per-pupil expenditure, or $12,300 per student. That tighter guideline was intended to give more of a budget cushion for each of the seven elementary schools within the ACSU.

With Tuesday’s adjustments, the UD-3 budget voters will field on Town Meeting Day will be $100,917 below the 123-percent cap that Sease had originally recommended.

Under Act 68, school districts face a financial penalty if their expenditures are more than 125 percent of the state average per-pupil expenditure, a threshold that had been estimated at $12,500 for next year.

Tuesday’s UD-3 budget debate drew few spectators. But the board did hear from Shoreham School Board Chairwoman Elizabeth Christensen, who questioned what she said has been a pattern of substantial increases in the MUHS athletics budget during the past five fiscal years. She noted the athletics budget has gone from $279,824 in fiscal year 2003, to a proposed $420,506 in fiscal year 2008.

“That’s an increase of about 50 percent over the space of five years,” said Christensen. “Those types of increases … are not sustainable, in this climate.”

Lawson countered that he has pitched cuts in athletics during the past five years, but those proposals have met swift opposition from parents, booster groups and some board members.

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