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UD-3 school board proposes 4.73 % spending increase

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December 13, 2007

By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — The UD-3 school board on Tuesday agreed to send voters a proposed 2008-2009 spending plan of $15 million and a request to spend almost $400,000 in surplus funds on security and energy efficiency upgrades to the Middlebury Union high school and middle school buildings.

The proposed budget places the district safely below the per-pupil spending penalty threshold prescribed under the state’s education funding law. Under that law, districts that spend 125 percent of the statewide average per-pupil spending level are taxed at a higher rate, with the “penalty” revenues used to help pay for education in poorer towns.

Addison Central Supervisory Union Superintendent Lee Sease said the draft budget reflects a 4.73 percent increase in overall spending compared to the current year.

District officials are still firming up numbers on how the budget will affect taxpayers in the UD-3 member communities of Middlebury, Cornwall, Weybridge, Shoreham, Ripton, Salisbury and Bridport. The UD-3 budget reflects education expenses for both MUHS and MUMS.

Sease acknowledged that the district was in large part able to keep its budget under the state’s per-pupil spending threshold because 12 teachers have voiced interest in participating in an early retirement program. This program will allow the district to either keep some of the positions unfilled or hire new teachers at a lower wage scale.

But Sease added a cautionary note about the retirements in a recent memo to UD-3 board members.

“These early retirements have not been fully processed,” Sease wrote. “If for some reason these retirements do not come to pass, then substantial reductions-in-force will need to be made to meet the budget as presented.”

District officials cited salaries, benefits and rising special education costs at the high school level as major drivers in what Sease has called “a basic budget.” The spending plan does feature a spike in special education costs in the high school. Expenses in that category are tentatively projected to rise from $1,431,246 in the current fiscal year to $1,711,488 in the year beginning July 1, 2008 — a 19.6 percent increase.

SURPLUS FUNDS

Voters will cast ballots on the budget on Town Meeting Day, set for Tuesday, March 4. They will have another bit of business to take care of in the meantime, however. The UD-3 district’s annual meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 26, will feature a proposal to spend up to $394,000 in surplus and reserve funds on upgrades to UD-3 buildings, including:

• $175,000 for more energy-efficient windows in the “H-wing” of MUHS. The current windows date back to 1969.

• $45,000 to replace current light fixtures in the MUHS H-wing with more energy-efficient, fluorescent fixtures.

• A combined total of $135,000 to install security systems for various doors at both MUHS and MUMS. Proposed purchases include a card-access locks on exterior doors; a “panic door” locking system; and new classroom door locks.

MUHS Principal Bill Lawson explained the new security systems would make it easier to protect the school buildings — and individual classrooms — if there is a security risk from the outside. In essence, school officials would be able to conveniently and quickly lock doors from the inside to prevent access by intruders.

The $394,000 question set for Feb. 26 also includes a request for $39,000 to buy a new multi-purpose tractor to help maintain MUHS school grounds. The current tractor dates back to the 1970s.

“I hope they pass,” Lawson said of the requests on the warning. “I think we have a reasonable proposal.”

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