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School Budgets Shape Up

Norwich and Hanover school boards are in the home stretch of finalizing their budgets, which they plan to adopt by the end of the month.

Along with the budgets, residents will also be asked to approve teacher contracts for all three districts, which in some cases could increase taxes.

The Hanover School District is proposing a $11.6 million budget, which is a $260,824 — or 2.3 percent — increase over the current year.

The $5.2 million Norwich School District budget is increasing by $263,259, or 5.4 percent; The School Board might ask voters to approve a $425,900 bond for capital improvements.

While the Hanover and Norwich districts are reporting increases, the Dresden School District is proposing a $23.1 million budget, which is a decrease of $110,456 — or a drop of 0.5 percent. But the School Board could tack on an additional $100,000 to the budget to pay for technology initiatives.

In the upcoming weeks, each district will be conducting public hearings and budget deliberations and adoptions.

“Every year we go through this,” Norwich School Board Chairman Neil Odell said. “It’s better for folks to be a part of the process now than just show up at Town Meeting and just see the end result. And at that point all you can do is vote yes or no.”

Norwich Budget

The higher Norwich school budget, which includes grades K-6 at the Marion Cross School, is largely due to an increase in special education costs. The district will see a $171,548 increase for special education, which will be mostly offset by a special education grant reimbursement of $141,374.

The school projects enrollment declining by seven students to 304. Due to the drop in students, the district plans to reduce the number of full-time classroom teachers from 19 to 18. (Last year the district only budgeted for 18 teachers as well, but added an additional teacher when there was an unexpected increase in enrollment.)

The Norwich School Board is also considering adding a $425,900 bond to be financed over 10 years for capital improvement projects.

“This is one area that over the past three or four years, we’ve been very frugal with any building maintenance spending, but that comes at a price,” Odell said. “There are areas that deserve our attention.”

The bond, if approved by the School Board, would likely pay for a gym roof replacement, energy recovery units and univents, which are used for ventilation, and temperature control.

Hanover Budget

The Hanover budget includes K-5 at the Ray School and the cost of Hanover sixth graders to attend Richmond Middle School.

A majority of the 2.3 percent increase in the Hanover budget is connected to an increase in the number of sixth graders.

The Hanover district pays $17,269 per sixth grader to send a student to Richmond Middle School, and the sixth grade enrollment is up 12 students, to 98.

At the same time, enrollment at the Ray School is expected to drop by 31 students, from 457 to 426.

Hanover School Board Chairman Robin Carpenter said the sixth grade enrollment is not a surprise because it’s based on the current fifth grade class. But enrollment at the Ray school is not as reliable.

While there is a reduction in enrollment, the school board does not plan to cut full-time teachers, which is a decision that has split the board, Carpenter said.

Last year, Carpenter thought the board could afford to reduce one full-time teaching position. With projected enrollment down again this year, Carpenter said he feels the same way, but he said he’s in the minority.

“It’s fair to say that the rest of the board feels that there’s enough uncertainty around the projections that it’s better to retain staff than reduce,” Carpenter said.

Dresden Budget

The Dresden budget includes Hanover High School and Richmond Middle School. Enrollment at the high school is anticipated to increase by one student, while there is an expected 16 student drop at the middle school, for a total of 1,119 students at both schools.

The decrease in students at the middle school has caused the district to do some shuffling of educators, which will lead to a decrease of $105,525 for “regular education teacher salaries.”

At the high school, the district is saving $73,942 because four veteran teachers are retiring, which causes a corresponding savings in salaries.

The district managed to have a 0.5 percent decrease in the proposed budget because of savings in special education and an expected increase of only 6 percent in health insurance costs, which is lower than the district has experienced in recent years.

But despite the decrease, the School Board could vote on Jan. 22 to increase the budget by $99,550 to pay for technology initiatives at the middle school and high school. Dresden School Board Chairman Carey Callaghan said the board was in favor of the increase at a meeting earlier this week, which would result in raising the budget by less than half a percent.

“This has a lot of elements to it, but it’s clear that the move to technology enhanced learning is profound,” Callaghan said.

The initiative includes funding for 120 iPads at the middle school and 30 iPads at the high school and a computer numerical control device that would allow students at the high school to input designs.

All three budgets could be tweaked before they are adopted later this month and go to voters at Town Meeting in March.

Tax Impact

If the budgets, including Dresden, are approved, the homestead tax rate in Norwich is expected to increase by one cent from the current year’s $1.75 to about $1.76 per $100 of valuation. Norwich residents who pay their property taxes as a percentage of their income under the state’s income sensitivity program could see an increase from 3.31 percent of their income to 3.37 percent.

In Hanover, residents could see their school taxes increase by a penny per $1,000 of valuation, from $11.26 to $11.27.

At Hanover and Dresden, teachers and the School Boards have also come to an agreement on a teacher contract that would provide a 2 percent increase in base salaries for each of the three years of the contract.

Support staff and service employees have also come to agreements that would give support staff a 2.5 percent increase for each year of a three-year contract. The service employees agreement would increase base wage rates by 1.9 percent in the first year of the contract.

John Aubin, assistant superintendent for business, said he had not yet determined what the total tax rate would be in Hanover and Norwich if all three agreements passed at Town Meeting.

In Norwich, a two-year teacher agreement was also reached that would provide a 2.25 percent increase for both base and steps. Unlike New Hampshire, Vermont includes its teacher contracts within its budgets and residents will vote on the budget and teacher contracts as a whole.

The Norwich budget will be discussed at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Marion Cross School multipurpose room. The Hanover budget will be discussed at 7 p.m. tomorrow at the Ray School music room. And there will be a public hearing and budget adoption for the Dresden budget at 7 p.m. next Tuesday at the Hanover High School library.

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.