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Staffing changes help VUES keep spending plan in check

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By ANDY KIRKALDY

VERGENNES — Personnel changes are helping Vergennes Union Elementary School officials keep proposed 2009-2010 spending in check. The draft $3.54 million budget that the VUES board will look at later this month — probably on Jan. 18 — calls for a increase of 1.7 percent that is well below inflation.

That spending plan calls for a spending hike of just about $60,000 over the current budget of $3.48 million.

Given that officials had to budget an extra $20,000 for fuel and add in $33,000 to replace lost federal support for reading and preschool programs, and that teachers’ salaries are rising with inflation at about 4 percent, Principal Sandy Bassett said he is happy the VUES board and Vergennes, Panton and Waltham residents can look at a modest spending hike.

“I was obviously not doing handsprings down the hallway about not doing some things we’d like to be doing, but these are austere times,” Bassett said. “I’m hopeful that my community will see that as another austere budget brought forward to them.”

Helping to keep spending in check is the impending retirement of two veteran teachers. Bassett said their experience will be missed, but that they are at the top of the salary scale, about $20,000 each over the projected starting salary of their replacements.

“We won’t be hiring folks at the top of the hiring scale,” he said. “For a small school like mine, that’s a substantial savings.”

At the same time, Bassett said projected changes in the student population mean that two aides will no longer be needed, resulting in a similar savings.

“We reduced two para-educator positions, which is a significant amount of money,” he said.

Bassett did have to do some juggling. One teacher who will leave is a roving math instructor, a position that will not be replaced. Instead, the principal put that salary into a new teacher at the fifth- and sixth-grade level.

Bassett said that decision was typical of the kind of compromise officials felt was necessary considering tough economic times.

“I lost some math support school-wide, but I gained a five-six teacher,” he said. “I would have preferred both.”

Officials said all other items were gone over carefully, line by line.

“Everything else is just really lean,” said Addison Northwest Supervisory Union business manager Kathleen Cannon.

Bassett said unlike at many schools around the state, the student count at VUES is not dropping. Cannon said it stood at 280 in September, and Bassett said some projections show an up-tick in the near future that could help the school avoid double budget votes called for in new state school financing law.

“Our enrollment has stabilized, and I’m hoping it will increase over the next several years,” Bassett said.

But given the economy, school officials are anxious even presenting an increase of less than 2 percent.

“We’ll keep our fingers crossed,” Bassett said. “These are terrible times.”

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