Wednesday January 16, 2013

DAWSON RASPUZZI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- A week after asking to see cuts amounting to a 5 percent expenditure increase in the Mount Anthony Union fiscal year 2014 budget the school board decided against cutting any deeper than what would amount to a 6 percent increase.

The initial draft budget presented to the Finance Committee last week would have amounted to a 7.3 percent increase but since that time administration found $315,000 to bring MAU's total spending down to $25,340,000. Those savings come from a reduced assessment from Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union of $175,000 -- a result from that board cutting its own budget and not replacing a special educator who is retiring -- purchasing a new lawn mower with funds in this year's budget instead of next year's, cutting a middle school teacher, and cutting the teaching position in the AMPS Program at the middle school.

AMPS is a seventh grade program in which a math specialist teaches two honors classes that are independent of the middle school teams and gives additional math help to students who are struggling. Principal Timothy Payne said he hopes to be able to keep those services while eliminating the program by duplicating the eighth grade model in which honors classes are offered in the team structure.


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"I also think that addressing the needs for kids who struggle with mathematics (can be done) in different ways and can be opened to more students," by reallocating existing resources, Payne said.

The middle school teaching position being reduced is a position added this year to keep class sizes low in sixth grade where there is a bubble in enrollment. As those students move on to seventh grade the previous plan was for the additional teacher to move up as well, but Payne said the middle school can cut the position and maintain class sizes below 25 students per class next year.

To meet the Finance Committee's previous request to show what a 5 percent budget increase would look like, administration brought a list of additional cuts that they recommended the board keep in place. Included on that list was a reduction of athletics at the middle and high school, capital projects at both schools, two teachers at the high school, and computer equipment at the middle school. The new computer equipment for $50,000 is one of the only sizable additions to next year's budget and the committee did discuss reducing or eliminating it completely although ultimately decided to leave it in.

The only other significant addition discussed by the committee was a last-minute addition of $15,000 to advance the agriculture program at the middle school. The money will help pay for services that have largely been grant funded and done on a volunteer basis in recent years, such as overseeing the programs and maintaining the garden behind the school.

Other than those additions increases in the budget are primarily due to contracted salary hikes, the rising costs of health insurance, and an increased assessment from SVSU due to loss of federal funds and increased special education needs.

The Finance Committee appeared content with the current expenditures by the end of the meeting, indicating they may not change from now until the budget is approved late in January. However, the committee has yet to see a revenue budget so the effect a 6 percent spending increase will have on the tax rate remains unknown.

The full MAU board will review the draft budget on Jan. 23 as part of its regular meeting.

Contact Dawson Raspuzzi at draspuzzi@benningtonbanner.com or follow on Twitter @DawsonRaspuzzi