SHAFTSBURY — The School Board received the first draft of its fiscal year 2017 budget on Monday, and are faced with the task of cutting $70,000 from it to avoid penalties under Act 46.
Last year's education bill set a limit on how much a school district's spending per equalized pupil could increase in any given year. Any district that goes over will be double-taxed on the amount over the limit. In Shaftsbury, the maximum increase this year is $383.44 per pupil, and is currently $278.18 per pupil, or $70,102.30 in total, over that limit. Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union Chief Financial Officer, Rick Pembroke, was optimistic that the board would be able to make that goal. "I don't think it's difficult for you to get under your penalty threshold," he said, "We can find $70,000."
He said that, if the budget remains unchanged, the education tax rate in Shaftsbury would increase by 2.71 cents per $100 in appraised property value, plus an additional 2.87 cents in penalties from Act 46. If it can get below the spending limit, however, the tax rate will remain roughly level, prior to applying the Common Level of Appraisal adjustment, said Pembroke.
Principal Jeff Johnson submitted to the board a list of items he deemed "requested, but not critical" to school operation in FY17, as well as a list of things he said could be cut, but which he did not recommend. The first list included $75,000 in security upgrades, $18,720 for the Nature's Classroom trip that students took for the first time this year, $25,000 in computer lab purchases, $10,000 from the after-school program, a $10,000 chimney removal, a $4,500 carpet replacement, and $1,000 for a sixth grade trip to Montpelier. The things he did not recommend cutting were a $71,000 math interventionist position, which the board budgeted for but did not fill last year, $15,000 for new windows, and $8,000 for a drainage tank as part of the new parking lot project. Pembroke noted that the school could also expect some savings from their SVSU assessments when the SVSU budget is finalized, perhaps as soon as this Thursday.
"I'm not in favor of spending $70,000 on a new security system," said board Chairman Tim Scoggins. Board member Dave Durfee agreed, and suggested they take a harder look at that project at the next meeting. The board also agreed that they use $25,000 from a reserve fund to pay for the computers. Board member Larry Johnson, however, said the budget item he had the biggest problem with was still the math interventionist.
The math interventionist, said Johnson, would work with primarily Tier 2 students in grades K through 2 — students who are falling behind their peers in math. He said that, through one funding source or another, every school in the SU besides Shaftsbury has someone in that role. Johnson expressed concern that it would be difficult to judge the effectiveness of the math interventionist with hard numbers, and that there might be more cost-effective ways to increase student performance.
The board tentatively agreed to meet again on Jan. 11. The budget must be finalized by the end of the month.