School budget hinges on configuration costs (11/19/09)

Nov. 19, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

The budget season began in earnest last week in the Williston School District. School Board members received their first look at the 2010-2011 school budget but are still awaiting news on how much next year’s planned reconfiguration will cost the district.

The board did receive some good early news. According to figures provided by Chittenden South Supervisory Union Chief Operations Officer Bob Mason, Williston’s baseline budget for next year is lower than in years past. If the district begins next school year with the same services and staff as this year, the district is looking at a 1.05 percent increase from the current budget. In total, the baseline budget adds up to roughly $16.49 million.

“That’s a good place to start from,” District Principal Walter Nardelli said.

As for reconfiguration, Nardelli said he’s still awaiting final enrollment projects for next year. Once the administration has the numbers, it will be able to determine whether or not a sixth upper house will be needed within the school. Nardelli said the enrollment projections should be ready for the board’s next budget meeting on Dec. 3.

In next year’s reconfiguration, pre-kindergarten through second grade students will be housed at Allen Brook School and third through eighth graders will be housed at Williston Central School. There will also be a mix of two-year and four-year houses for grades five through eight.

The cost of the reconfiguration is something School Board members are cognizant of, board Chairwoman Darlene Worth said at the meeting. There is also pressure from state officials to keep budgets level funded. Department of Education Commissioner Armando Vilaseca sent a letter to superintendents last week urging districts to keep budget increases to a bare minimum and to look for ways to cut costs to help taxpayers during the recession.

But reconfiguration could make that difficult, Worth said. Last year, the district kept its budget increase low at .03 percent.

“I’m not sure we can do that this year,” Worth said.

School Board member Deb Baker-Moody said once the board hears from the administration on reconfiguration costs it will be able to move forward in determining the rest of the budget. She said reconfiguration will also establish what may need to be cut from the budget.

“That’s what we’ll have to decide,” Baker-Moody told the Observer after the meeting.

Also on Thursday, the board heard presentations on technology, operations and special education budgets for next year. Technology Director Bonnie Birdsall presented student work to the board, showing how technology plays into all subject areas. Next year, the technology department will need to replace 53 desktop computers and 37 laptops, Birdsall told the board. She may also push for more SmartBoards so every teaching team in the school has one. SmartBoards are interactive white boards that can cost up to $3,500.

Special Education Director Carter Smith said his department may require additional staff and paraeducators to best meet student needs. With additional students that may need special education focus in the early grades, Smith estimated his department would be looking at a $213,000 increase.

Operationally, Williston Central needs a new boiler system. The school has three large boilers used for heating, all of which are nearly 45 years old. The age of the heating units means less efficiency and higher costs when parts break down. Allen Brook Principal John Terko said each boiler costs roughly $100,000. He said this is a pressing need, although all three would not have to be replaced at once.

Terko also said the board should consider leaving money in next year’s budget for the removal of the temporary classrooms at Allen Brook. He said the Charlotte school district may be interested in acquiring them for renovations. If not, the modular’s builders might be able to take the classrooms back.


The next Williston School Board budget meeting is scheduled for Dec. 3 at 4 p.m. at Williston Central School. A regular board meeting is scheduled to begin afterwards at 6 p.m.