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Area school budgets below state's per-pupil spending guideline

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January 29, 2007

By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — All seven communities in the Addison Central Supervisory Union (ACSU) have crafted proposed 2007-2008 school budgets that are below the state’s per-pupil spending guideline, though some of the towns may be in store for hefty education tax jumps — particularly if they haven’t recently conducted town-wide reappraisals.

ACSU officials recently unveiled school spending plans for the towns of Bridport, Cornwall, Middlebury, Ripton, Salisbury, Shoreham and Weybridge. The K-12 budgets showed increases ranging from 2 percent (Shoreham) to 6.3 percent (Bridport), though local taxpayers would see education property tax rate increases ranging from 2.7 percent (Cornwall) to 15.9 percent (Shoreham) if the budgets are approved as submitted.

The main culprit driving up the education tax rates, according to ACSU Superintendent Lee Sease, is the common level of appraisal (CLA) provision of Act 68, the state’s school funding law.

“We have some boards that have been very responsible in the budgeting,” Sease said. “(CLA) is a problem.”

In an effort to equalize the ability of towns to raise the same amount of money per pupil, communities are assigned a “common level of appraisal.” The CLA compares local property assessments with the state estimation of actual market value. Towns in which property is over, or under, market value are then required to adjust their tax rate. As a result, towns that have not completed townwide reappraisals in several years are likely to see their education property taxes increase substantially due to the CLA factor.

SHOREHAM

Shoreham figures to be bitten particularly hard by the CLA factor this year.

Shoreham is pitching a 2007-2008 elementary school budget of $1,373,080, a 4.1 percent increase compared to this year. The town is proposing a total K-12 education spending plan of $3,148,098 — representing a 2 percent increase.

It’s a budget that — without CLA implications — would’ve reflected an equalized education tax rate of $1.53 per $100 in property value — a 3.7-percent decrease compared to this year. But with the CLA factor, the budget produces an education tax rate of $2.45, representing a 16-percent increase.

“Shoreham has been on a (reappraisal) list for awhile,” Sease said of the CLA implications on the budget. “It’s a matter of finding appraisers.”

Still, Shoreham budget planners were able to avert a lot of cuts, in large part due to the UD-3 board’s successful efforts in keeping secondary school expenses below the Act 68 per-pupil spending cap of $12,594. That left more wiggle room for schools like Shoreham, which were bumping up close to the cap. Shoreham had to cut half of its busing program, among other things, to get below the cap last year. This year, the board had considered cutting guidance, music, physical education and principal’s hours — but didn’t have to, in the end.

Shoreham has budgeted for nine fewer students (a total of 221) next year.

BRIDPORT

Bridport voters will cast ballots on a $1,352,998 spending plan, which would be a 6.53-percent hike over the current year.

The total K-12 budget is being pitched at $2,657,966, representing a 6.34-percent hike.

Without the CLA factor, Bridport’s equalized education tax rate would’ve been $1.518 per $100 in property value, a 7-percent increase. With the CLA factor, however, the education tax rate comes in at $2 — a 10-percent increase.

Sease explained that Bridport came the closest of any ACSU school to exceeding the Act 68 cap. The school board averted that hazard, in part, by reducing its special education program by 50 percent of a full-time equivalent position.

“I don’t consider that will be a substantial problem, because the number of special education students are down (in Bridport),” Sease said.

Schools that exceed the per-pupil spending guideline pay a penalty to the state education fund.

CORNWALL

Cornwall voters will decide an elementary school budget of $1,097,596, a 3.43-percent increased compared to the current year.

The K-12 budget is being pitched at $2,477,340, which is 2.75 percent more than this year.

Without CLA implications, the proposed budget would produce an equalized education tax rate of $1.519 per $100 in property value — a 3.6-percent decrease. With the CLA, however, the tax rate becomes $1.726, a 2.69 percent increase.

MIDDLEBURY

ID-4 board members last week endorsed a proposed 2007-2008 Mary Hogan Elementary School budget of $5,482,885, a 2.73 percent increase compared to this year’s spending plan.

The total K-12 education spending plan for Middlebury is being pitched at $12.4 million, a bump of approximately 0.6 percent.

Absent CLA factors, Middlebury’s equalized education property tax rate would be $1.523 per $100 in property value. But taking CLA into consideration, the education property tax rate would go up 2 percent.

Middlebury voters will decide the Mary Hogan Elementary Budget in April, as opposed to the other ACSU towns that will cast ballots on their budgets in March.

RIPTON

Ripton residents will field an elementary school budget of $792,398, which amounts to a 3.93-percent increase over this year.

The total K-12 education budget is being proposed at $1,452,935, up 4.33 percent compared to the current year.

Without CLA implications, Ripton’s equalized education tax rate would be set at $1.455 per $100 in property value. Taking into consideration the CLA, however, the tax rate comes in at $1.652, a 2.19 percent jump.

SALISBURY

Salisbury’s elementary school budget is being proposed at $1,441,382, up 4.31 percent over the current year.

The K-12 spending plan is being pitched at $3,035,766, an increase of 3.71 percent.

Were it not for CLA factors, Salisbury would be looking at an equalized education tax rate of $1.542 per $100 in property value — a decrease of 3.8 percent. With the CLA taken into account, Salisbury’s tax rate rises by 6.1 percent.

WEYBRIDGE

Weybridge voters in March will decide an elementary school budget of $1.2 million, up 1.9 percent compared to this year.

The total K-12 budget is being presented at $2.3 million, an increase of 5.9 percent.

Absent CLA factors, Weybridge would be looking at an equalized education property tax rate of $1.453 per $100 in property value — a decrease of 5.54 percent.

But taking into effect CLA variables, the education property tax rate is estimated to rise by 4.42 percent.

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