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The news that Harwood Union’s budget is slated to rise between 7 and 8 percent is hard to swallow. The school board has been fastidious about cutting spending and minimizing increases, but this year Harwood is trapped between a rock and the state’s education funding policies.
Schools in Vermont receive state education funds based on the number of “equalized pupils” and Harwood’s equalized pupils have gone down from 803.55 last year, to 780.44 this year and are expected to decline further to 769.72 next year.
And because the school budget is rising more than 3.2 percent and because the lower enrollment numbers make for per pupil expenditures higher than the state average, the Washington West Supervisory Union (WWSU) voters will have the distinct pleasure of facing the double budget vote this year.
That means that voters will be asked to approve what is basically a level service (not level funded) budget, plus 3.2 percent, and then will have to cast a second vote to approve additional spending.
The proposed budget is not a fancy budget. It does not include frivolous expenditures. It includes a modest, negotiated wage increase of 2.3 percent for teachers and support staff.
Compare that 2.3 percent increase to WWSU salary increases that range from 5.3 percent for the superintendent, 5 percent for the business manager, 4.4 percent for financial support staff and 4.2 percent for the director of student support services.
Compare those salary increases to the federal cost of living increase of 1.7 percent. Compare that to what happened to your own paycheck.
Local school boards work hard to contain costs at the elementary, middle and high schools. The vagaries of Act 60/68 don’t make it easy and very often minor increases in spending cause major increases in taxes.
The WWSU budget amounts to only 3.5 percent of the total education spending in the district, but that is no reason for the members of that executive board to be any less judicious with taxpayer money than they are when crafting their own school budget.