Reductions in school budget could mean teaching cuts12/11/08

Williston School Board wants to avoid second vote for budget

Dec. 11, 2008

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

The Williston School Board has asked the school administration to find ways to cut the district’s proposed budget by $325,000, even if it means eliminating teaching and assistant teaching jobs. The hope is to save enough money to avoid a potential two-vote article on the school budget come Town Meeting Day in March.

Currently, the district employs 18 teaching assistants — positions that may be eliminated to avoid the penalties of Act 82, which requires the second vote if the district exceeds a certain level of increase. School Board Chairwoman Darlene Worth told the Observer after the board’s Dec. 4 meeting that a middle school teaching position could face elimination as well.

Any staff cuts would be “an incredibly difficult” decision she said, but may be necessary for a budget to pass.

“It would be good to not have to go for that second vote,” Worth said.

Act 82, enacted by the Vermont Legislature earlier this year, is a spending cap for school budgets. If a district’s budget exceeds the state-mandated restriction, then a second vote is required to pass a complete budget. Were a vote held today, residents would be asked to approve one article for $16.44 million, plus an additional article for $325,000.

District Principal Walter Nardelli and Chittenden South Supervisory Union Chief Operations Officer Bob Mason have been meeting to find ways to cut costs. Their report is expected for the board’s next budget meeting on Dec. 18.

“We need to see what might cause the least pain and what elements of pain might be tolerable,” Mason said.

Worth said if there was no way to reduce the number, then Nardelli and Mason would have present to the voters what the $325,000 represents in terms of school services and employees.

There was discussion amongst the board and its “budget buddies” — citizens chosen to help the board during the budget process — about the possibility of the second vote passing, especially in light of the current recession.

“Do we do the cutting or do we let the community do the cutting?” asked Marty Sundby, a budget buddy and former chairwoman of the School Board.

Worth said one of the few places to cut costs would be with salaries. The board reiterated any cuts should affect students the least, but the elimination of some teacher aide positions would be of concern.

Other budget news

Mason talked about current school enrollment and class sizes. Overall, enrollment is stable, and is expected to decrease by a little more than 20 students in the next school year. Class sizes for kindergarten through fourth grade should stay around 18 students per teacher in 2009-2010, and at 23 students per teacher for fifth through eighth grade.

Board member Holly Rouelle said the information is sometimes deceiving.

“I know some classes that are huge,” Rouelle said.

Full House, for instance, has an abundance of eighth graders, and Swift House has a larger number of fifth graders. Each house is a bigger, five-teacher team, but Williston Central School Principal Jackie Parks agreed the increased number of students in the house has been an issue this year.

“Those of us living it know there’s a difference (in class sizes),” Parks said.

Bob Mason also spoke about how Williston’s budget pays for more CSSU services, such as monies for the superintendent’s office and human resources office, and other shared services between schools, including technology departments, transportation and various education coordinators. All food service employee payrolls are being run through CSSU this year as well.

Some of the shared services can be altered in the Williston budget to save money, Mason said, but it could come at a price of reduced benefits. Still, the board seemed interested in taking a closer look in helping to trim the budget to avoid the two votes.