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Board expects decrease in school budget

Jan. 13, 2011

By Tim Simard
Observer staff

Williston School Board members learned from administrators last week that next year’s district budget should drop at least 1 percent from current levels. Furthermore, District Principal Walter Nardelli said the reduction can occur even as the district adds critical components, including a science lab.

The current budget is $16.32 million. Chittenden South Supervisory Union Chief Operations Officer Bob Mason said he won’t be sure of the final reduction until later this week.

In addition to reviewing the budget before an expected vote on Jan. 20, the board discussed a bond for a new boiler and energy upgrades, along with tax impacts for the town.

Although school spending will likely drop, Williston residents can expect to see an increase of approximately 1 percent in their taxes, according to Mason. Vermont legislators have not voted on an official tax rate for the state, Mason told the board, so tax implications are still estimates.

“This is the best, tightest budget you can do without cutting programs,” board member Darlene Worth said.

Along with replacing 60 computers throughout the district and upgrading books and materials for all grades, the district plans to renovate a classroom into a full science laboratory at Williston Central School. Williston’s scores on statewide science exams have decreased in recent years, and last year Williston’s eighth grade students scored below the state average. The results prompted many parents to call for changes in the district’s science curriculum. Many have said the lack of a science lab contributes to low scores.

After polling teachers, staff and board members last month, Nardelli said the lab addition was deemed the highest priority. Nardelli estimated the cost of the lab conversion at approximately $45,000, although he told the board he expects construction bids to come in lower.

Board Chairwoman Holly Rouelle said keeping the proposed 2011-2012 budget lower than the current budget, despite adding the lab, could win over many voters on Town Meeting Day. Voters have to approve the school budget in March.

“I think the science lab is a good selling point to the budget itself,” Rouelle said.

Bond expenses

Separate from the overall budget is the proposal for key upgrades to the district’s buildings. The three boilers at Williston Central are more than 40 years old and are becoming increasingly difficult to repair if they break down, according to administration officials.

The district also needs an energy efficiency overhaul, Nardelli has said. By outfitting the schools with energy efficient equipment, the district will save money in the long run and earn rebates through Efficiency Vermont, he said.

The board said it wants to include both maintenance issues in a separate bond for voters to approve. The bond would total roughly $378,000 for the projects, Mason said. That doesn’t count the potential $38,000 Efficiency Vermont would reimburse Williston, he said.

“From a debt standpoint, there’s no better time to get out there on the market,” Mason said, noting historically low interest rates.

Along with the maintenance bond, voters will be asked to weigh in on the annual purchase of a school bus for $105,000. Mason said the purchase is part of the bus replacement that nearly all districts in CSSU undergo each year.

The board also discussed the $215,877 it will receive from the federal Education Jobs Fund. Vermont received $19.2 million from the federal government; the money was divvied up statewide to help keep school costs down. State officials recommended that districts use the money over two years. Williston board members said they hope to use the money to replenish the school’s general fund.

The general fund is a rainy day account the board has used in recent years to offset budget and tax increases. Mason said the fund, at less than $200,000, does not have enough money on hand in case of emergencies. Voters will need to approve the federal money addition on Town Meeting Day.

The School Board is expected to approve the 2011-2012 budget proposal at its next meeting, scheduled for 4:30 p.m. on Jan. 20 at Williston Central.

EXPLORING CONSOLIDATION

The Williston School Board wants a community volunteer to join a committee studying the possibility of consolidating all school boards in Chittenden South Supervisory Union.

Superintendent Elaine Pinckney said the study committee will meet about three to four times this winter, beginning late this month.

Williston School Board members Deb Baker-Moody and Laura Gigliotti will belong to the group, as will Champlain Valley Union High School Board Chairwoman and Williston resident Jeanne Jensen.

Anyone interested in participating can contact Pinckney at 383-1234 or epinckney@cssu.org.