As usual, the Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) Board began its meeting this week with public comment. Life LeGeros, Waterbury, chimed in via Zoom, thanking the board and educators for going “above and beyond” during the pandemic. LeGeros has children at Brookside Primary School and Crossett Brook Middle School. He praised the district for its response to COVID, though expressed concern that Superintendent Brigid Nease’s recent letter seemed to indicate that HUUSD’s shift in COVID protocols would mirror the state’s response.
“I’ve lost faith in state leadership,” he said. He’s been worried about sending his kids to school. He asked the board to “Please do whatever you can to mitigate” the spread of the Omicron variant. He said he advocated offering remote schooling options, though Nease reiterated that the Vermont Agency of Education did not support or count remote instruction as official school days. LeGeros asked that good masks be available to everyone (Nease said all school staff have been provided with KN95 masks and 10,000 masks will be provided to students). LeGeros asked for as much testing as possible, following the state’s announcement this week that schools should stop contact tracing and surveillance testing in schools. “Don’t back off, keep going and do more,” LeGeros pleaded.
Nease said that as the Agency of Education’s guidance was not binding without a state of emergency, the HUUSD will continue contact tracing and surveillance testing at least until the schools’ February break, contingent on test supply availability and will reassess at that time. She said HUUSD schools are keeping kids isolated in cohorts, including while eating lunch. When a case is identified in a classroom, all families of students in the class will be notified. She said the district processed 800 surveillance tests on Monday and showed 13 cases in HUUSD schools on Wednesday.
HUUSD director of finance and operations Michelle Baker presented the revised FY2023 draft budget to the board this week. The overall expenditures are up 4.3% from the FY2022 budget. Currently projected revenues are up 2.4%. The increase in expenditures includes increases in employee benefits (a $147,689 increase) and salaries (up $53,856). Special Education expenses are also up $589,575 (7.9%) while special education revenues are up $174,679 (5%) in the first year of Act 173, which is “an act relating to enhancing the effectiveness, availability and equity of services provided to students who require additional support.”
The budget report Baker submitted to the board said, “High School vocational tuition expense is up $23,393 based on updated data from the AOE on the six semester average student FTEs attending technical centers totaling 24.41, which is what the FY2023 tuition charges will be based on. The estimate for other consulting professional services is reduced by $31,915 based on actual spending to date and updated estimates.”
“The Tax Commissioner’s letter indicated rates across the state would decrease on average by 2.5% with a yield of $12,937 for a point of reference. The reason for the decline in tax rates is totally related to the yield estimate which is projected to go up 14.3%, from $11,317 to $12,937. If the yield projection was an increase of only 2%, the average increase over the last four years, homestead tax rates would be increasing by an average of 10.5%,” according to Baker.
There is a $1.6 million budget surplus from last year, which the board discussed putting towards the district’s maintenance reserve fund, which will be used to make repairs to the Harwood Union building. All board members were in agreement to include the surplus in the maintenance reserve funds.