After several years of budgets that have had minimal increases or even decreases, Waitsfield Elementary School is anticipating a budget increase of 6.28 percent for the 2013-2014 school year.
“These increases are not reflective of additional programming or curriculum, but are primarily a result of fixed costs. 2.6 percent (well over 1/3) of the increase is a result of raised predicted insurance rates from our provider VEHI. We have not experienced this level of increase in many years,” explained school principal Kaiya Korb.
An additional 2.3 percent, comprised of increases in nursing staff and special education contracted services, is to meet the needs of a few students. Increased transportation costs and preschool partnership tuition (incurred when the preschool is at capacity) comprise an additional .97 percent increase.
Less than 1 percent of the increase (.66 percent) is an amalgamation of salary changes that includes a reduction of a teacher at third/fourth grade, the addition of a one-year kindergarten teacher in response to a large incoming class, increases in salary as a result of negotiations and professional development compensation, and a slight increase in paraprofessional staff.
“This year, as in past, the school board and administration are committed to building a budget that is sustainable for our taxpayers while responsible to our students. As most of the increases outlined are predetermined or required, the only means for achieving a smaller budget would be to eliminate programming. Reduction of a 3rd/4th grade teaching position is already planned in an effort to build as lean a budget as possible and respond to the slight drop in enrollment that we’ve experienced over the past few years. Further paring would look like the elimination of a program, a step that compromises the commitment to the whole student that Waitsfield School has made over the years,” Korb explained.
“The school board has been working hard to maintain the quality of education while containing costs and keeping property taxes from escalating over the last several years. These challenges are being faced throughout our state (and beyond). In 2006, the Vermont state education cost per equalized pupil was $9,769. In Waitsfield, the per pupil cost was slightly higher, at $9,839. While our costs have increased over the years, so has the state average. This fiscal year, our per pupil cost is $13,172, again just slightly higher than the state average of $12,789. Review of per pupil costs from around the state reveal exactly what one might expect; there are cost challenges inherent in running a smaller school,” she continued and noted that in the past few years, the school board has
offset tax costs by maximizing revenue opportunities, including special federal funds and fund balances to reduce taxes;
significantly improved the building, resulting in marked energy and cost savings, by accessing grant funding and existing fund balances;
whenever possible, reduced staffing to match school population. A kindergarten classroom was eliminated in response to a dip in enrollment; the preschool also ran a combined 3- and 4-year-old classroom in response to smaller numbers. Over the past five years, special education support staffing dipped as specific needs diminished.
The board has been able to bring forth budgets that led to tax rates that have actually dropped slightly in recent years.
“While there are many revenue factors, set by the state and federal government, that are yet to be finalized, the board of school directors recognizes that the budget draft proposed for next year will not be able to sustain the downward tax trend they have established. However, given the careful and long range planning in which they have been engaged, they do believe that the sustainable stewardship of the school continues to be at play,” school board chair Rob Williams said.
“The school board welcomes your opinions and ideas on these topics. This coming Monday, December 19, the school board will meet to review the second draft of the school budget. The meeting, which convenes at 7 p.m. in the school library, is open to the public and provides an excellent opportunity both to become informed on the proposed budget and to share your thoughts and input. Now, more than ever, your input and involvement is needed as we work to continue to shape and fund our children’s educational experiences,” he added.