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By Rachel Goff
As Harwood Union Middle School and High School confront rising costs for FY2014, the school board spent much of their meeting on Wednesday, January 16, debating whether or not to present a budget big enough to require a two-part vote.
According to state law, school districts seeking to increase spending beyond the rate of inflation plus 1 percent must break up their budget requests to voters into two parts, with the second part representing spending above the threshold. This provision was designed to encourage cost containment, but in the end most Harwood Union board members felt that the cuts that would be required to remain under the two-vote threshold were not worth it for next year.
At the end of the meeting, the board voted on a FY2014 budget of $13,015,259, which reflects a 7.6 percent increase from last year and will appear on the ballot in two parts: Part A in the amount of $12,886,914 and Part B in the amount of $128,345.
At the beginning of the meeting, the finance committee presented the board with a slightly lower budget of $12,985,259. This number reflected a 7.4 percent increase in spending from last year and it exceeded the two-vote threshold by $98,000.
The $12,985,259 budget reflected several cuts since the board’s last meeting, including reducing the number of late bus runs and deferring updating the drivers’ education car. The number did not include any position cuts besides those already suggested by the administration.
“We’re looking for every efficiency,” Washington West Supervisory Union (WWSU) superintendent Brigid Scheffert stated, but she questioned whether the board was maybe looking a bit too hard.
According to Scheffert, the $25,000 to $30,000 the school would save by reducing late bus runs is too small when considering the effect it would have on students. By switching from two late buses running at 4:30 p.m. and then again at 5:30 p.m. to just one bus running at 5 p.m., students who got out of afterschool activities earlier would have to wait longer, and students who got out of activities later would have to cut those activities short. Having only one bus running would also increase the amount of time students spend on the bus.
Reducing late bus runs “would never have even come up, frankly, if we weren’t desperate,” Scheffert said, and the board agreed to hold off on making the reduction until it had more information about ridership.
The board also decided to add the cost of updating the school’s eight-year-old drivers’ education car back into the budget, citing safety concerns and the benefits of trading the car in while it still has value, bringing the $12,985,259 up to its final amount of $13,015,259.
“I’ve never been afraid of the two-vote,” Fayston representative Russell Beilke said in response to suggestions that the board find further cuts. “This is what we need to do in order to do the best for the children.”
By Rachel Goff
Warren Elementary School’s budget of $2,298,047 for FY2014 reflects a 5.6 percent increase from last year.
While the board looked to save money where it could, “some of the cost increases are pretty much out of our control,” Principal Wendy Cobb said, including a 14 percent increase in health insurance and a 3.5 percent increase in teachers’ salaries.
The only staffing reduction in next year’s budget is a slight reduction in instructional assistant and paraeducators’ hours, “but we’re still confident we can meet everybody’s needs,” Cobb said. Warren Elementary plans to increase the summer custodial staff by 20 hours per week for $1,680.
The board’s third draft of the budget could not include what Cobb calls “wish list” items such as building maintenance updates and technology purchases, but it does include the cost of a new classroom, which was completed earlier this month, as well as the cost of a new school bus, which was partially offset by a state grant.
At $12,518, “our cost per pupil is still the lowest in the district,” Cobb said, and Warren Elementary still maintains an average class size of 15 students.
Ultimately, Cobb feels confident in the school’s ability to “shave down some costs without compromising on student programs and instruction,” she said.
This is Cobb’s first year as principal of Warren Elementary, “so this is my first budget,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of support from the board and from the central office.” And from the school itself.
“The people we have in this building are incredible,” Cobb said. “Everybody gives 110 percent.” And the budget is only increasing by about 5 percent.
By Rachel Goff
Moretown Elementary School’s budget of $2,050,675 for FY2014 reflects a 5.1 percent increase from last year.
This budget includes a 14 percent increase in health insurance and a 3.5 percent increase in teachers’ salaries, as negotiated by the Washington West Supervisory Union (WWSU). In particular, Moretown Elementary’s budget also includes staffing reductions, as the school will cut back on one teacher and one part-time custodian.
“This is a change in our school. This is something we don’t take lightly,” Principal Duane Pierson said of the staffing reductions, but the board had to consider the burden that spending increases have on taxpayers.
As a result of these staffing reductions, “we’re not going to increase the local tax rate,” Pierson said, “and we won’t decrease the quality of the school.”
Moretown Elementary’s enrollment has increased by nine since the official student count was taken last fall, but even with one less teacher, the school’s average class size of 14 students falls on the low end of Washington West Supervisory Union’s (WWSU) class size standards. And things look good for the future.
The school is still paying for renovations it made to the building in 1996 and for roof repairs it made a few years ago, “but this debt load comes to an end in 2016,” Pierson said, “which will open up our budget a lot.”