Vassalboro school officials – primarily Superintendent Alan Pfeiffer, Principal Ira Michaud, and Special Education Director Tanya Thibeau – led school board members through the proposed 2023-24 budget at a March 29 workshop meeting.
Board members raised some questions during the workshop and were encouraged to send more as they reviewed the figures and explanations. The board is scheduled to meet again at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, April 6, at Vassalboro Community School (VCS), before a joint meeting with budget committee and select board members at 7 p.m.
As of March 29, the proposed 2023-24 school budget was a little over $9 million, with state and school revenues providing more than $5 million and the remaining almost $4 million requested from local taxes.
Pfeiffer shared two pieces of good news. Vassalboro’s state allocation went up by about $115,000 when state education officials recalculated, he said; and the increase in insurance, budgeted at 10 percent, will be no more than six percent (a saving of at least $44,000 from the March 29 total; final figures are due April 7).
The superintendent said the school budget has not increased substantially in four years, despite increasing costs, and warned that the situation can’t last forever. Unlike many others, Vassalboro school department has no debt, he added.
Pfeiffer expressed appreciation to Finance Director Paula Pooler and her staff for many hours of work on the budgets for Vassalboro and its former partners, Waterville and Winslow. Vassalboro continues to save money by sharing staff with the other two towns.
Plans for 2023-24 include adding two VCS staff members. Pfeiffer and Michaud propose a second school counselor, and Thibeau recommends hiring an educational technician to work in the resource room with students who need extra help.
Pfeiffer made two points about staffing. First, he said, students are still dealing with effects of covid, and more than usual need individual attention. Second, special funds, like the 2020 federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, are contributing; when CARES funding ends, board members will need to decide whether to add money to the budget or reduce services.
CARES-funded personnel are aware that their employment may end when the CARES program ends in 2025, he said.
Board members are already looking ahead to future needs. Director of Maintenance and Grounds Shelley Phillips summarized building work discussed at the March 2 board meeting: repointing and cleaning the exterior brickwork, replacing the roof over the gymnasium and the cafeteria, replacing curbing along driveways and parking lots and air-conditioning the third floor.
Board member Jessica Clark asked Michaud about his long-term plans. The principal promptly replied that he would like VCS to offer an alternative education program, for students who don’t do well in regular programs, especially older students (grades six through eight).
Alternative education programs are aimed at integrating formal education and job skills, and often include an outdoor or environmental component. The example Michaud gave was a course led by an arborist, who would teach students about trees and also show them why they need reading, writing and math skills to succeed in the profession.
After the April 6 budget discussion, the next regular Vassalboro school board meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 11, at the school. It will be on the second Tuesday of the month, a week earlier than usual, because the week of April 17 is school vacation week.
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