Increase of 4.79 percent proposed for Vernon schools' budget

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Vernon - posted Fri., Jan. 17, 2014
Dr. Mary Conway presented a budget with an increase of 4.79 percent to the Vernon Board of Education on Jan. 13. Photo by Steve Smith.
Dr. Mary Conway presented a budget with an increase of 4.79 percent to the Vernon Board of Education on Jan. 13. Photo by Steve Smith.

Dr. Mary Conway presented her budget proposal for the Vernon Board of Education's 2014-2015 fiscal year at the Board's meeting on Jan. 13. The superintendent is calling for a $52.9 million spending plan – a 4.79-percent increase over 2013-2014, and said that while she had hoped to have a lower increase, she is satisfied that she and her staff have done the best job they could have on the budget.

“I wanted to come in down at least in the threes,” she said. “We couldn't do that. Otherwise, we're cutting current planning.”

Salaries account for 2.05 percent of that increase, and benefits represent 2.35 percent. “Unless we cut staff that we have currently,” she said, “those are areas over which we have no control.”

The district will have 17 teacher retirements, netting a savings of $493,000, however retirees will receive two days of compensation per year of teaching in the district. Conway said $177,000 was added back in for this purpose. Two other coordinator positions were also removed. The athletic director's job, which had previously been cut to a part-time position, will be restored to full-time.

Benefits will also increase, largely due to the 15-percent expected rise in the costs of medical insurance, as well as life, dental and prescription coverage. Medicare costs will also rise by that number. Conway said she was asked to increase workers' compensation by 100 percent, but that number could easily go down. Pensions will also increase by 12 percent.

A mere .3 percent of the budget increase is due to discretionary spending, Conway added, saying that most of the other line items are remaining flat.

Board priorities included funding full-day kindergarten, which includes the two teachers' salaries, minus the Alliance Funding grant monies.

Support for curriculum evaluation, revision and implementation was another priority, and will be flat-funded. Following with the New England Association of Schools and Colleges' recommendations was another priority, and includes improved teaching and learning, creating assessments, and providing technology and technological support for students and teachers. The budget provides for a small increase for the replacement of teachers' laptops.

The fourth priority was to seek special education cost containment. Conway said the Vernon Elementary School – the district's special education program – is working well, and “doing incredible things for our kids.”

Revenues – which schools were asked for the first time to report to the town – are expected to be relatively stable. ECS funding should be flat, Conway said, as should transportation and agricultural education grants from the state.

The district will see savings from several sources, including an energy savings plan, which has already saved about $70,000 in electricity costs. The district also received a technology grant of $250,000 and has seen more savings with a new time-clock system for employees. Savings were also seen in staff re-organizations and heating oil costs.

Subsequent budget meetings took place on Jan. 15 and 22, and another will take place Jan. 29 on an as-needed basis. The board is expected to vote on its budget at its Feb. 3 meeting and present that budget to the town council on Feb. 10.

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