New elevator heads list of school budget additions1/8/09

Jan. 8, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

While the Williston School Board is looking to keep the district’s budget increase at a minimum this year, the school administration asked the School Board for significant additions at its last budget meeting Dec. 18. The requests included a new special educator, the replacement of the inoperative elevator in Williston Central School and supplies for the library, art rooms and classrooms.

District Principal Walter Nardelli, along with Chittenden South Supervisory Union Chief Operations Officer Bob Mason, presented eight decision packages to the board. Decision packages are detailed reports of specific items the School Board will review before either approving or denying inclusion in the 2009-2010 school budget.

The board will present its final budget request to the public on Thursday, Jan. 22. The decision packages will be approved or denied Thursday, Jan. 8.

Some of the money needed is allocated from either state funding or the school’s construction budget. But the administration’s requests total a little more than $55,000, which does not include money already available for a new E-911 system and to help with an elevator.

New elevator

Construction of the school elevator, which was considered last year along with repairs to the school’s roof, is one of the most important decision packages the board needs to take into account, according to Nardelli.

“We have to do it,” Nardelli said. “We’re not (American Disabilities Act) compliant.”

Last year, architects looked at possible locations for a new elevator and determined it would be cheaper to build at a new location than at the current site. The initial estimate for the new elevator was more than $356,000, which included dismantling and cleaning up the old elevator shaft. Mason said the school currently has $248,610 for the elevator in its construction fund.

“We would come up short,” he said, adding that more details would be forthcoming.

There is no current estimate yet of what the elevator project would cost, but School Board Chairwoman Darlene Worth wondered if it would be possible to build the elevator this summer and save the cleanup of the old elevator until the following summer, splitting the cost between two budget cycles.

Also set aside in the construction fund is $29,500 for the district to become E-911 compliant. Being E-911 compliant means the school will have to upgrade the phone system so when an emergency call is placed from within the school, responders can pinpoint exactly where the call is coming from. Now, rescuers simply know that a call originated from the school.

The School Board is being asked to approve the funds for the project.

Other decision packages

The board will also consider the addition of another special educator. Nardelli cited the high caseloads and stretched staff in the need for another person. The total cost for the position is more than $74,000, with a little more than $42,000 coming from state aid, leaving $32,000 as a decision package for this year’s budget.

Nardelli said the school currently has 15 to 20 special needs students per educator, when state and federal guidelines recommend 10 to 15 students per educator.

The School Board wasn’t convinced this was a necessary addition, especially in light of possible staff cuts (see story on page 1) in the school to keep the budget under a two-vote minimum, per Act 82. Act 82 mandates that schools hold a second budget vote in the town if a district goes over a percentage increase set by the state.

“We’d have to talk about that a lot,” Worth said of the additional special educator. “Why this year? We aren’t convinced.”

Similarly, the administration is asking for an additional $7,500 for improved evaluations for Educational Support Team students who need additional help in reading and math.

The board also discussed the rising price of computer software programs for the library, which would cost $3,100. Art classroom supplies also need to be addressed, Nardelli said. The department hasn’t seen a budget increase in years, and would like to update its supplies at a cost of $3,000.

“We’ve finally stretched the dollars as far as we can,” Nardelli said.

A new initiative to bring more Smart Boards to classrooms is something the administration would like to start in the next school year. Nardelli said the Smart Boards, which are interactive white boards hooked up to computers, are used “all the time” in computer labs and he’s hoping to bring those straight to the classrooms. Five Smart Boards would cost $10,000.

The total decision package adds up to more than $55,000, which does not include monies already set aside in construction funding for a new elevator and E-911 compliance.

Discussions will continue at the board’s next budget meeting, scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 8 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.