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ACSU schools keep budgets tight

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By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — Proposed 2009-2010 spending plans for six of the Addison Central Supervisory Union’s (ACSU) seven elementary schools are on target for increases of less than 2.4 percent, thanks to what administrators are calling some conservative budgeting and a one-time accounting change for busing services.

The accounting change relates to Act 130, a state law that requires supervisory unions to more accurately reflect shared expenses between secondary and elementary schools. Historically, transportation expenses within the ACSU have been accounted for primarily within the budgets of the seven member elementary schools in Middlebury, Bridport, Salisbury, Weybridge, Ripton, Cornwall and Shoreham. The UD-3 budget has merely reflected the costs of busing the students from the elementary schools to Middlebury Union Middle School and Middlebury Union High School.

In an effort to comply with Act 130, the UD-3 spending plan is being asked to assume a $290,000 increase in transportation budgeting away from the elementary schools beginning in 2009-2010.

That transfer has created a little more breathing room for the ACSU elementary school budgets, to the tune of $79,622 in Bridport; $19,502 in Cornwall; $56,570 in Middlebury; $5,384 in Ripton; $25,953 in Salisbury; $77,492 in Shoreham; and $25,120 in Weybridge.

Those one-time reductions have also helped the schools to keep growth in spending within guidelines proscribed by Act 68, which penalizes school districts where spending rises above a certain threshold, and by Act 82, which sets up an extra budget vote for districts that spend above an inflationary cap.

“That’s the good news,” ACSU Superintendent Lee Sease said of the accounting change. “The bad news is, it’s a one-time deal. Now they have their budget base, and whatever percentage they go up next year will be based upon that budget base.”

Sease and ACSU Business Manager Sharon Stearns stressed that elementary school leaders did not look upon the one-time transportation windfall as an opportunity to pad their budgets. Rather, the funds enabled most schools to maintain the services they are currently delivering to students, according to Sease.

Cornwall is the only community that is seeking a substantial increase for its 2009-2010 elementary school budget. The proposed spending plan of $1,317,132 is up 12.3 percent, largely associated with a new teacher that would be added to the Bingham Memorial School staff. That additional teacher would allow Bingham Memorial to offer separate third- and fourth-grade classes, which are currently combined, according to Sease.

“That was a community-driven decision,” Sease said of the proposed new hire. “Cornwall had experimented with multi-age classes, but a critical mass of the community wants one teacher per grade.”

Officials are still determining the tax affecting portions of the school budgets. But it appears, based on current information, that Cornwall’s overall K-12 homestead education tax rate would be $1.94 per $100 in property value — down 0.9 percent from the current rate of $1.96. One reason for the potential decrease: Cornwall is projecting a higher student count next year and is therefore in line to receive more state funds.

Aside from Cornwall, Sease said there are no remarkable changes — up or down — in the proposed elementary school budgets. Bridport Central’s spending plan is being pitched at $1,356,398, reflecting a 0.17-percent increase; Salisbury, a budget of $1,480,244, translating into a 0.13-percent hike; Shoreham, a spending plan of $1,456,658, an increase of 0.23 percent; and Weybridge, a budget of $1,224,728, a decrease of 0.12 percent.

Stearns said Ripton school directors are still working on a draft elementary spending plan of $832,708, which would represent an increase of 2.4 percent compared to the current spending plan.

Meanwhile, leaders at Middlebury’s ID-4 district are working on a 2009-2010 budget draft reflecting a 1.98-percent spending increase for Mary Hogan Elementary School. Local voters will field that budget on April 8.

The ID-4 school board had a vote on the budget proposal on its Monday agenda, but board members decided to wait before approving the plan for a vote.

“The board decided, in light of the current economic concerns, to ask the administration to look at the budget one more time to determine if there might be any additional areas in which they could find savings for taxpayers without compromising the current excellent programming offered to students at Mary Hogan,” ID-4 Chairwoman Serena Eddy-Moulton said on Tuesday.

Mary Hogan Elementary School Principal Bonnie Bourne said the board will meet again on Jan. 26 to review a final draft.

It should be noted that the ACSU budgets will benefit from news of no anticipated increase in health insurance premiums through the Vermont School Boards Insurance Trust (VSBIT). On the other hand, the ACSU’s transportation and teacher contracts expire at the end of the current school year, leaving some uncertainty about what those expenses may be in 2009-2010. Administrators said they have estimated those potential expenses as best they can.

“We have two missions — one, we need to make sure we preserve the educational opportunity for our kids; and two, we need to be good stewards of the funds the public gives us,” Sease said. “I believe we accomplished both of those.”

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