VERGENNES — The Vergennes Union Elementary School board ended a budget workshop meeting last week eyeing a $4.26 million 2014-2015 budget that would increase spending by 4.34 percent, or $177,000.
However, almost all of that increase is driven by a state-mandated change in the way special education is accounted for within the Addison Northwest Supervisory Union schools and in higher special education costs overall, said ANwSU Superintendent Tom O’Brien and business manager Kathy Cannon.
Per the state law, special education costs in ANwSU are now being shared equally on a per-pupil basis among all schools regardless of which school the special needs students attend. That change protects each school from being surprised with unreasonably high costs in a given year, ANwSU officials said.
But this year, those factors alone are adding $170,000 to the VUES budget, they said.
The final VUES draft budget includes a boost in the hours of the school’s math specialist from a 60 percent position to full-time. That teacher is now also working at Addison Central School on a part-time basis, but is projected to lose her hours in that school’s 2014-2015 budget.
The board will also use several cost-saving measures to offset expected increases in VUES teacher salaries and benefits totaling about $46,000 and a projected $85,000 deficit resulting from unexpected special education costs, O’Brien and Cannon said.
They include fewer hours for a VUES school receptionist and maintenance worker, and smaller savings in several areas: an employee no longer needing health insurance, a cheaper copier lease, expected lower costs in fuel oil and supplies, and elimination of one bus route.
VUES board members on Monday said they expected to make final the budget at a Jan. 20 meeting.
“They were happy with it,” Cannon said of the board. “They agreed they would go forward with it.”
Early estimates of the tax impacts in Vergennes, Panton and Waltham — exclusive of the Vergennes Union High School budget, with which that board is struggling and about which a decision could be made this Monday evening — vary per town from about 4 cents in Panton to roughly 8 cents in Vergennes.
Local officials point out those estimates include the 7 cents the Legislature is expected to add to the statewide property tax rate upon which local tax rates are based.
“Even before we start, assuming no other changes, the state is recommending a 7-cent increase on the base rate,” O’Brien said.
Taxpayers who earn less than $90,000 are eligible for income sensitivity provisions of the state’s education financing law and would not pay the full amount of any increase. At least about two-thirds of property taxpayers received prebates in ANwSU towns during the most recent year for which prebate data is available.
Panton’s increase of about 3.86 cents due to the VUES budget alone would be lower than the other two VUES towns because its share of the student enrollment will be lower next year, Cannon said.
Waltham taxpayers would be looking at a hike of about 7.1 cents before the impact of VUHS spending is factored in, while Vergennes appears to be almost exactly at 8 cents.
All those tax rate figures have been adjusted for the town’s most recent Common Level of Appraisal numbers, which could change if towns successfully appeal them. Panton’s CLA, for example, is closer to 100 percent — 101.45 — than a year ago — 96.7.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at email@example.com.