“I can’t remember the last time I brought a zero percent budget in,” Vassalboro Superintendent Alan Pfeiffer told budget committee members and selectmen as they assembled to review results of March 19 and March 26 school budget discussions.
He added that the proposed budget is still subject to change. Possible causes for an increase – or conceivably a decrease — include eighth-graders changing their minds about which high school they’ll attend in September, a final decision on the price of 2019-2020 fuel and legislative action affecting state school funding, minimum wages and other topics.
The main reason for Pfeiffer’s draft no-increase budget is that 60 Vassalboro students are leaving high school and only 44 seniors are entering, Pfeiffer and School Board Chairman Kevin Levasseur said.
Tuition will cost Vassalboro about $1.9 million in 2019-2020, the second highest expenditure category. Running Vassalboro Community School (VCS) for students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade is projected to cost about 3.445 million. Special education at $1.446 million is the third major expenditure category.
Tuition rates vary from one high school to another. For schools the majority of Vassalboro students attend, Waterville’s $8,969 is lowest, Erskine Academy’s $11,770 highest. Pfeiffer explained that because private schools are ineligible for state construction funding, Erskine is allowed to charge what is called an insured value factor (IVF) to finance capital improvements. State law allows a maximum 10 percent IVF, Pfeiffer said; Erskine will charge 6 percent.
If Principal Megan Allen’s enrollment statistics don’t change too much, the tuition break will continue for two more years. As of mid-March, VCS had 43 seventh-graders and 37 sixth-graders before a jump to 51 fifth-graders.
Given the effect of tuition rates on the school budget and local taxes, school board members at their March 19 meeting wondered if it is time to poll residents again on whether they would prefer the board to contract with a single high school, instead of giving students a choice. They might discuss the issue at a summer meeting.
Allen and Pfeiffer pointed to a steady decline in student enrollment. Having fewer students reduces costs, but also reduces state subsidies that are based on student numbers. As of March 26 Pfeiffer had not contracted for fuel for the 2019-2020 year because, he said, he keeps expecting a price drop, based on increased United States production.
The proposed budget includes few new items. Pfeiffer summarized them for the budget committee: a change from a half-time contracted social worker to a full-time staff social worker; floor and wall repairs in the kindergarten-grade two wing at VCS; a change from the income-based pre-kindergarten program to what he called a universal pre-k with no income limits; and a request for state funding for two new buses.
Levasseur added that the superintendent’s salary has been increased to pay Pfeiffer, theoretically Vassalboro’s one-day-a-week employee, for one and a half days, since he usually works for the town seven days a week anyway.
Much of the VCS budget consists of salaries that are governed by contracts. Allen said most staff members are in the second year of a three-year contract.
Vassalboro voters will make final decisions on 2019-2020 school and municipal budgets at the June 3 town meeting.
The budget committee’s next meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, April 4, after a 6 p.m. selectmen’s meeting; both are at the town office. The next regular school board meeting is at 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 9, in the VCS library.
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