• Barre City Elementary and Middle budget increase: 12 percent
    By David Delcore
     | January 16,2013

    BARRE — Granite City voters will be asked in March to approve a $12.4 million budget to operate their elementary school during the fiscal year that starts in July.

    The proposal calls for more than $1.3 million in new spending — an increase of 12 percent. It would add an estimated 5.5 cents to the local tax rate, according to administrative projections. The city’s School Board adopted the plan this week, and it was presented to the City Council on Tuesday night.

    The rate hike assumes voters continue to support two perennially popular ballot items — $61,000 for a school-based police officer and a $30,000 contribution to the school’s long-term maintenance fund. Voters have never rejected either request, and, unlike the budget, both routinely pass by wide margins.

    The projected school tax rate in Barre would tick up 6.4 cents if the Spaulding High School budget is approved as proposed. The city’s projected assessment to the two-town union high school would require a 0.9-cent rate increase, according to estimates.

    School commissioners on Monday put the finishing touches on a budget that was the subject of behind-the-scenes deliberations that Chairman Lucas Herring described as excruciatingly thorough and board member Linda Riddle characterized as “heart-wrenching.”

    Some proposed positions were cut from the budget, as was a requested infusion of nearly $300,000 that represented a down payment on a five-year plan to replace and radically expand the number of computing devices available to students at the pre-kindergarten-through-8 school.

    Despite some last-minute lobbying by one board member, two students and a staff member, the board stood by its finance committee’s recommendation to cut the school district’s share of funding — $17,000 — for the woman who runs the school’s student assistance program.

    Leslie Walz urged fellow board members to restore funding for the position, though when pressed was unwilling to propose any offsetting budget reductions.

    After hearing from students and one counselor who spoke in favor of the work Dawn Poitras has done and reviewing a petition signed by more than 180 middle school students, the board added Poitras’ partially grant-funded position to a list of cuts that include a behavior interventionist, a paraeducator, playground equipment and a tractor.

    The newly adopted budget does include roughly $70,000 for the long-discussed creation of an assistant principal’s position and contemplates the hiring of an additional fifth-grade teacher.

    Negotiated pay raises for teachers account for just over $300,000 of the proposed increase, and officials expect health insurance costs to climb by nearly $130,000.

    Busing costs are also on the rise and are helping drive a double-digit increase in spending in a year when the district’s bond payments are actually dropping by $200,000. Busing is expected to increase by nearly $150,000.

    Special education costs continue to surge in the district and account for roughly one third — nearly $4 million — of the proposed budget. That is an increase of just over $1 million from the current year’s budget.

    Adding to the pressure on this year’s budget is the anticipated loss of some federal funding. That accounts for some of the increases reflected in the budgets for Barre City Elementary and Middle School, Spaulding High School and the Barre Supervisory Union.

    One of the big reasons that the anticipated tax rate increase isn’t higher is that the common level of appraisal in Barre has increased for the third straight year, allowing for a corresponding reduction in the tax rate.

    The common level of appraisal, or CLA, is a calculation the state uses to equalize property values from community to community for school funding purposes. If the state believes a municipality’s valuation of its property isn’t current, it raises the tax rate a corresponding percentage.

    In Barre that formula is working in reverse again this year, because the city’s CLA climbed from 96.38 to 99.95 percent. Although officials haven’t said how much the tax rate would have increased if the CLA had simply stayed the same, they have indicated the projected 6.4-cent rate hike under the proposed budgets is significantly less than it would have been.

    Board members talked about having made tough decisions, and one — Riddle — spoke forcefully about what she said was the finance committee’s protracted debate that pitted a proposal to purchase new textbooks against the need for a paraeducator to handle one student’s behavior. The textbooks, she said, won out.

    But Riddle argued it is time for the board to seriously consider expelling students whose chronic behavior problems routinely disrupt classroom instruction and require expensive support services. “Are we going to sink the Titanic to save the lifeboat?” she asked.

    However, Walz argued elementary school was probably too soon to give up on children — some of whom come to the district with complex trauma histories.

    “I can’t see a young child ever being expelled,” she said. “That’s what public education is (for). I think we’ve got to find ways to work with them.”

    david.delcore @timesargus.com

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