MANCHESTER - The Manchester school board got their first preliminary look at the first draft of a proposed school budget for the coming school year during its meeting Tuesday night.

The preliminary budget showed a 2.3 percent change from this year's budget. Currently, the budget for this school year called for spending of $11,737,700, although the anticipated spending will come to $11,878,604. The draft budget for next year anticipates spending of $12,002,616.

The draft budget is just the beginning of the process, and there are still many moving parts of this framework, Daniel French, the Superintendent of the Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union said.

"The first question when we start this process, [is] we have to answer is how well we're doing now relative to our current budget," he said.

Some of the components of the draft budget that cannot be firmed up yet include everything from hot lunch sales to the tax implications of the draft budget, he said.

However, while there are still many moving components, French said this is a pretty good framework.

"Eighty percent of a school district's costs in Vermont is staff related; we did settle new teacher's contract...we had budgeted more for that than was actually brought in the settlement," he said. "We're looking at a 2 percent [increase] on elementary expenditure...usually at this point when I would do this draft, we're looking at 6 percent."

As for the school board, French said they need to consider any structural changes they feel should be made to the draft budget, specifically looking at the cost of some long term facility needs.

"At our last meeting we spent some time with Mr. Mears, [MEMS facilities manager] going through the facility," he said. "A building this age has some facility needs and we need to plan for that and our attempt is to put together some sort of long term building plan, so we have some sort of anticipation of what the balance should be in that fund."

The budget will have to be approved by the school board by Jan. 7, French said. By law, a complete budget must be provided by Jan. 15.

The board also reviewed the report from Dr. David Silvernail, director of the Center for Education Policy, applied researc and Evaluation at the University of Soutern Maine, on using technology in personalized student learning.

"This is another component of a plan to sort of shift our system to focus more on personalized learning for students," French said. "Part of Dr. Silvernail's function in that is to do some evaluation of our implementation of technology and provide feedback, and from a growth perspective help identify barriers toward working to leverage that better."

The report was the result of visits to schools in BRSU, interviews with school leaders, teachers, school board members and other education staff across the supervisory union and a teacher survey.

"The goal in administering the survey was to assess the current state of affairs and to identify strategies for increasing the effective use of technology in support of creating a BRSU personalized learning system," the report stated.

School board chair Katy McNabb said one of the most interesting aspectsreveled by the survey was 60.8 percent of respondents said they needed more help meeting the different learning needs of all the students in their classroom.

"Part of, I think I mentioned this earlier, this idea of professional development is a resource and system that has not been particularly well focused in this organization," French said. "Something I think we can start to do is to identify these priorities."

One of the objectives of the survey, French said, was for the organization to start asking questions themselves, such as what are the professional development priorities, instead of bringing someone from the outside in.

28 percent of teachers at Manchester Elementary Middle School responded to the June 2013 survey. It is scheduled to be administered again in 2014. A student survey is being designed and the data will be available sometime in the spring, French said.

The school board reported back on their Ends policy meeting. The Ends policy, McNabb said, is really about stating where the board thinks all students should be as citizens and members of the community when they end their time at Manchester Elementary Middle School. 

"We incorporated feedback that we got from the administration," Brian Vogel, board member said.

The belief statement of the policy was one area that was taken out, but still referenced, he said.

"It is listed as guiding principles of the Manchester School district board of directors and is referenced in the Ends policy itself," he said.

Vogel said there was discussion around the statement, "Ninety percent of students who have been in the district for a full school year will advance at least one grade level by the end of each year in the core academic content areas of reading, writing, mathematics, science, history and social studies."

It was decided, he said, to stick with the 90 percent target until they see data that may indicate it is not a realistic goal.

"We certainly don't want to have an unrealistic benchmark out there," Vogel said.

At this point, the policy is out to the general community, he said. McNabb said the policy was sent to friends of MEMS, the PTO, teachers and it is also available to read on the Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union website. The policy will be finalized and ready for a vote on the Dec. 3 school board meeting.