Budget challenges looming for SVSU

Tuesday December 4, 2012



Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- A significant loss in federal funding projected for the next school year has the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union staring at a $2 million increase in its first budget draft.

A $1 million reduction in grant funds is responsible for half of the jump, Chief Financial Officer Richard Pembroke said Thursday at a fiscal 2014 budget meeting of the full board.

The 15 percent hike in the draft budget (from $13.4 million to $15.4 million) is also largely due to additional special education needs and the supervisory union’s commitment to salary increases and health insurance costs. Those increases, which are largely out of the supervisory union’s control, make up $230,000 of the $2 million increase.

Schools around the state were advised by the Vermont Education Health Initiative to prepare for a 14 percent increase in health costs. But Pembroke said he believes the increase could be even greater. To be conservative, the SVSU budget now has a 20 percent projected increase. By the time the budget is final on Dec. 20, Pembroke hopes there will be a clearer picture of what the actual rates will be.

The other most significant addition to the budget is $380,000 for special education services. That increase is due to additional needs for autism services, psychological and behavioral services, assistive technology, a new special educator at Mount Anthony Union High School, and additional paraeducator in North Bennington, out-of-district placements for students and administrative supports.

Including the $380,000 in new special education expenses, the special education part of the budget is up $1.3 million when including inflationary increases and the new need for local funding the cover the loss of grants. About 50 percent of the total increase to special education is federally reimbursable.

Significant increases in other departments include:

* Curriculum: $30,000 to provide professional development around the Common Core State Standards expectations and outcomes to staff.

* Technology: $50,000 for a 0.6 technician, new server, license updates and a community alert system.

* Administrative: $50,000 for a new records clerk position (earning $10 to $12 per hour) and other miscellaneous increases.

* Early Education: $200,000 due to increased needs -- most notably an influx of seven or eight children with autism entering the school system who will require significant supports.

Some expenses in the supervisory union budget, such as salaries of personnel who work in one of the schools, are directly assessed to the districts that use the services. Other supervisory union-wide services are assessed to the six member school districts based on the percent of equalized students in the district. For instance, all special education employees are in the SVSU budget but each district pays for the salaries of the special educators at its schools, whereas costs associated for administrative personnel such as the superintendent are divided among districts.

Presently, salaries of technology employees who work in the schools are assessed directly to the districts, although Technology Director Frank Barnes is requesting those positions become supervisory union-wide to allow for greater flexibility. The change would allow every school to benefit from the various areas of expertise the staff has and allow more resources to be available if a problem arises in a school.

Individual school district boards will discuss the SVSU budget at their December meetings and the SVSU Budget Committee will continue meeting weekly until the budget’s approval Dec. 20.

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


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