School budget increase at less than 1 percent1/22/09

Williston’s cuts include classroom teacher, teaching assistant

Jan. 22, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

In its last meeting before officially approving the 2009-2010 school budget, the Williston School Board agreed on cutting four positions, including one classroom teacher and one teaching assistant. Along with those cuts and other budget reductions, next year’s budget is estimated to be $16.89 million — an increase of 0.4 percent.

Chittenden South Supervisory Union Superintendent Elaine Pinckney said at last Thursday’s budget meeting the increase could change before final approval this week, but would most likely remain well under 1 percent.

The School Board said its primary motive in keeping the budget at such a low increase was to help residents cope with the struggling economy. Also, the low percentage staves off the Act 82 penalties of requiring a second vote for school budgets that exceed a state set percentage growth.

While some school budget proposals in Vermont request high increases amidst the shaky economy — including Burlington’s at more than 9 percent — the Williston School Board expressed satisfaction in keeping its increase small. Pinckney said all school districts within CSSU have been working to keep their increases below 1 percent.

“We’re in a great place right now,” said School Board Chairwoman Darlene Worth.

Williston’s cuts

Upon the recommendation of District Principal Walter Nardelli, the board agreed to cut one teaching assistant position, one upper house teacher, and two paraeducators. Nardelli cited declining enrollment as a main reason for cutting the jobs.

As Nardelli explained to the board, a large “bubble” of 139 eighth graders is moving on to Champlain Valley Union High School next year. The incoming fifth graders moving into the upper houses are a group of 120. In the other lower grades, student enrollment stays steady or slightly declines, compared to the current fourth graders. Nardelli said class sizes would not be adversely affected if the board cut one upper house teaching position.

School Board Vice Chairwoman Holly Rouelle wanted to make sure teaching assistants and upper house teachers would be appropriately balanced throughout the school when the positions disappeared. Nardelli said the administration would do just that.

Nardelli also spoke in favor of teaching assistants, handing out a three-page job description to the board and to parents who attended the meeting. Responding to questions from an earlier budget meeting, he said teaching assistants do a wide array of work besides photocopying tests.

“If they’re not doing the job, then who’s going to do it?” Nardelli said. “Some of the work would significantly cut into teaching time for our teachers.”

In previous budget meetings, only one paraeducator position was identified as a possible cut. Nardelli recommended cutting two positions whose time was not reimbursable under state and federal law. Most paraeducators’ time in the classroom gets some form of funding from state and federal agencies.

Nardelli also said the hope was to avoid layoffs.

“Most of the positions would be taken care of by natural attrition, including the teaching position,” Nardelli said.

There were some additions decided upon at the budget meeting as well. A special educator’s part-time position — already figured into next year’s budget — had its hours increased from 1.5 days a week to 2.5. Also, the board approved the decision packages for $3,000 in fine arts supplies and $2,000 in library computer software upgrades, pared down from an earlier quote of $3,100.

The much discussed $10,000 decision package for Smart Boards — a type of interactive white boards — was not voted on, as Nardelli said it was possible to buy the equipment using leftover funds from this year’s budget.

Nardelli also found other ways to save money in the budget. In fact, the latest savings exceeded the $325,000 needed in reduction to avoid the second vote of Act 82. Through some staffing changes and confirmed retirements, the district will save around $118,000.

“It still means we would be hiring people back (for the positions), but this number reflects the savings we would get,” Nardelli said.

The board praised Nardelli’s work in helping to reduce the budget. Nardelli also credited the staff members of the CSSU central office in helping him crunch the numbers.

The final School Board budget meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 22 at 4 p.m. in the Williston Central School library. The board is expected to sign off on the final budget article that will go to voters on Town Meeting Day in March.