By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury voters on Wednesday, April 9, will be asked to support a proposed 2008-2009 Mary Hogan Elementary School budget of $5,624,785, reflecting 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 increase of 8.4 percent in the education property tax rate for Middlebury homeowners, a boost that district officials said is associated with the “common level of appraisal (CLA)” provision of the state’s education funding law.
“The budget, to be frank, is pretty unremarkable,” said Mary Hogan Elementary Principal Bonnie Bourne.
She noted the one substantial addition to the proposed budget is an education technologist position that 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.
The computer technologist position is making a comeback after having been phased out of the budget in recent years as a cost cutting move. Mary Hogan Elementary currently serves 385 students, down from 540 enrolled eight years ago.
While the school is proposing to add a new position, it is preparing to cut others.
The budget reflects 2.1 fewer professional positions, with cuts including a second-grade teacher, to reflect a smaller-than-usual incoming class. There will also be fewer special education staff, to reflect the changing needs of next year’s student body.
“Principals Bonnie Bourne and Tom Buzzell have worked hard to bring the town of Middlebury another carefully crafted budget that meets both the school’s programmatic goals and its students’ needs while maintaining fiscal responsibility to the community,” ID-4 board Chairwoman Serena Eddy-Moulton said.
“The board is enthusiastic about this (budget) proposal and also directed the administration to research the feasibility of adding a second language program to the 2009-2010 instructions program.”
School officials were upbeat about the fact that health insurance premiums for ID-4 workers are projected to rise by 5 percent next year — not what one could call a bargain, but still lower than the double-digit hikes common in recent years.
On the other hand, the costs of heating oil, propane and gasoline are all expected to rise into the next school year.
“The whole area of utilities is a challenge for our budget,” Bourne said.
While the proposed spending plan 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 (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 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) 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.
The tax jump comes in spite of what school officials say has been their best efforts to keep increases to a minimum. Addison Central Supervisory Union Superintendent Lee Sease noted that inflation has gone up by 14.4 percent during the past five years, while the Mary Hogan Elementary budget has gone up by 9.8 percent during that time period.
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 meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. in the school gymnasium.