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Otter Valley eyes 2 percent spending hike, $2 million renovation bond

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January 7, 2008

By MEGAN JAMES

BRANDON — The Otter Valley Union High School board on Thursday approved a $10,995,304 spending plan for the 2008-2009 academic year, which it will present to voters on Town Meeting Day. The plan represents a 2.12 percent increase in spending over the current year’s $10,766,837 budget, but it also represents a 5 percent hike in the amount the school will ask from taxpayers.

“Last year we had a couple of failed budgets so the assessment was really quite low,” board chair Jim Rademacher said. The 2007-08 budget approved after three district-wide votes featured a 0.32 percent increase in the tax levy from the previous year.

“So yes the assessment is up 5 percent, but if you look at our total budget we’ve kept it quite low,” Rademacher said.

The school board last week also decided to ask voters to float a $1,998,500 bond to repair the 46-year-old OVUHS school building. In addition to twice rejecting proposed school spending plans in 2007, Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union voters also rejected a proposed $10.3 million bond, which would have been used for updating facilities.

With a relatively low increase in health insurance costs for employees — it is budgeted at about 5 percent — the main drivers responsible for the increased spending in the 2008-09 budget are maintenance, fuel costs and changes in the experiential high school program.

The board made $224,690 in proposed spending cuts last year after voters twice rejected the school’s spending plan. Some of those expenses, like maintenance costs, are woven back into the 2008-09 proposal. Last year, the board reduced the maintenance budget by $75,000, leaving that area under-funded this year. So next year’s plan includes a $126,793 increase in maintenance costs.

The ’08-’09 budget also includes increases for the Moosalamoo experiential high school program, including its fuel costs and a staffing change. The paraeducator position will see a $6,000 salary increase and title change since the employee will now be responsible for the development and implementation of programs and curriculum.

Otter Valley is also paying off the bond for its library this year, so worked into the plan is the remaining $38,570 debt.

To keep the budget below $11 million, the board made a number of cuts, including cutting the equivalent of 2.5 full-time staff positions, which shaved $148,854 off the spending plan. According to Principal Dana Cole-Levesque, two of those reductions will be made in the English and math departments, and the other $35,000 will be cut from a combination of professional and support staff salaries and benefits.

“We have a teacher (in the math department) who has indicated they will not be returning next year, and we are choosing not to replace that position,” he said. “In consultation with the department chair we’ve decided we can cover the classes that teacher would be teaching.”

In the English department, one support position will be eliminated, Cole-Levesque said. The board offered early buy-out retirement to many of its employees in an effort to reduce costs, but no one accepted.

Cole-Levesque stressed that because Otter Valley’s middle school is restructuring next year into two, rather than three teams, middle school teachers will be available to shift to high school positions, covering those that have been cut.

“The personnel reduction does not reflect a reduction in programming,” school board member Ellen Kurrelmeyer said.

In addition to the personnel cuts, the budget includes changes in the athletic and information technology departments. Because the school needs to pay higher fees and mileage for referees, fewer team uniforms will be replaced, though the board stressed teams will remain presentable.

To help reduce energy costs, OV’s information technology department will replace desktop computers with laptops, using separate keyboards and mice, which run on a fifth of the energy desktops do.

BOND PROPOSAL

The proposed bond — which would fund an upgrade to the wastewater treatment facility, roof repairs, a replacement of old oil tanks and exterior drainage and traffic safety improvements — would be the first of a two-phase project. The second phase, which would include mostly interior renovations, would be presented to voters in November.

At Thursday’s meeting, the board voted to add one more project to the bond: a restructuring of the front lobby to increase safety and visibility. The project, which would cost about $175,000 wouldn’t expand the building’s footprint, just rearrange the layout of the interior so administrators could see more easily who was coming in and out of the school.

“We no longer have the person sitting at the desk that we had the second half of last year as visitors come in,” board member Dick White said. “If we’re able to glass in that wall and put somebody behind it, I think seeing that in the bond will help it to pass.”

The school board is certainly taking into account the difficulty it faced gaining voter approval last year, but Rademacher said he is optimistic this year will be an easier sell.

“I’m certainly hopeful that this will go through, that people will see that we are doing our job,” he said.

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