ACSU schools tighten spending

MIDDLEBURY — The Addison Central Supervisory Union’s seven elementary school boards have all been preparing 2010-2011 spending plans reflecting less than a 2 percent bump in spending, but education property taxes are still pegged to escalate at a much higher rate — including by more than 19 percent in Weybridge.
“They are all either very slight increases or decreases,” ACSU Superintendent Lee Sease said of the proposed elementary school budgets for the district-member towns of Bridport, Cornwall, Salisbury, Shoreham, Ripton, Middlebury and Weybridge. The budgets in most cases trim, or simply maintain, current programs. Teachers and district officials continue to negotiate a new contract; the previous teachers’ pact expired last June.
“But when you start looking at dropping enrollment, the increase in the base (statewide education) tax rate and the Common Level of Appraisal (CLA), these factor into some of the substantial increases in tax rates,” Sease said.
Indeed, several ACSU elementary schools are projecting a continued trend of declining student enrollment next year. Chief among those shrinking schools is Weybridge, expected to lose 10 students next year, according to Sease. The fewer students, the less state aid the school receives to help run programs.
Also factoring into the equation is a recommendation by Vermont Department of Education officials that the statewide education property tax rate be increased from the current 86 cents to 88.2 cents in order to compensate for an anticipated shortfall in state funds. That means an automatic 2.2-cent hike in local education property tax rates right off the bat, if such a boost is approved by the Legislature.
Then there’s the CLA, a provision in the state’s education funding law that calls for an annual adjustment to listed property values to ensure communities have equal capacity to raise school property taxes. The state calculates the CLA annually for each town to adjust the listed value of properties to reflect fair market value as nearly as possible. The CLA is printed on property tax bills.
Communities that see a drop in their CLA — often because they have not recently done townwide reappraisals — can see a rise in their education property taxes.
Bridport Central School directors have crafted a proposed 2010-2011 spending plan of $1,336,975, representing a 0.93 percent increase compared to the current spending plan.
Bridport’s school population is expected to decline from the current 88 student to 80 next year, a factor that would boost its equalized per-pupil spending level from the current $12,399 to $13,724. But the town is helped by the fact that its CLA will increase, thereby softening the K-12 education property tax increase, which is now being projected at a 2.42 percent boost.
In Cornwall, the elementary school budget for 2010 to 2011 will be warned at $1,329,145, which amounts to a 0.91 percent bump compared to this year’s spending plan.
Residents will also be asked to approve a $26,131 plan to upgrade the school’s ventilation, air exchange and multi-purpose room heating systems.
Sease said that Cornwall’s enrollment is anticipated to remain about level next year, at around 86 students. While the town’s CLA is expected to remain at around 100 percent, the school is expected to lose some grant revenue, Sease said. Consequently, the town’s K-12 education property tax rate is expected to rise by 4.9 percent.
Ripton school directors are proposing a 3.29-percent decrease in 2010-2011 spending, with a $780,699 spending plan to serve a student body pegged at around 43 students next year. That enrollment figure would be down four students from this year.
School officials pared a paraprofessional position from the staff to help lower the spending plan. In spite of those efforts, Ripton’s K-12 education property tax rate is expected to rise by 5.13 percent, due largely to a drop in the CLA and declining enrollment.
In Salisbury, the proposed 2010-2011 budget will be presented at $1,487,257, up 0.47 percent from this year.
School directors are anticipating around the same number of students (91) next year.
But a drop in the CLA and the anticipated 2.2-cent boost in the statewide education property tax rate is expected to boost Salisbury K-12 school taxes by 9.4 percent, according to Sease.
Shoreham School directors are proposing a 2010-2011 budget of $1,434,616, which represents a 1.51-percent decrease compared to this year.
But in spite of the cost cutting, Shoreham can expect to see its K-12 education property tax rise. That’s because of, among other things, a drop in the CLA and a slight decrease in student enrolment (from the current 87 to 85 students).
“When you only have 87 students, it doesn’t take much of a drop to make a difference,” Sease said.
The unnerving disconnect between spending and school taxes is most acute this year in the town of Weybridge, where the school board has crafted a 2010-2011 budget of $1,213,063. That represents a 0.95-percent decrease in spending compared to this year.
But an expected 10-student decline in enrollment (from 76 to 66) and the CLA are the major culprits in generating a K-12 education property tax rate that’s expected to jump by a whopping 19.02 percent.
“It’s the perfect storm,” Sease said of the variable leading to Weybridge’s school tax dilemma.
Meanwhile, Mary Hogan Elementary School directors are scheduled to meet on Feb. 8 to finalize a 2010-2011 budget that will be voted by Middlebury residents on April 14. The proposed sending plan is shaping up as a 1.52-percent increase, compared to this year.
Sease said he has, during his tenure, tried to emphasize fiscal responsibility in budget planning. But it’s a task that is being rendered increasingly difficult by state initiatives that he said are pushing more of the education funding burden to local property taxpayers.
“It feels like it is out of control when it comes to the local tax rate,” Sease said. “The current conditions that we face make it very, very difficult to be proper stewards. I find that disturbing. I think public schools in Vermont have come to a crossroads and now we need to see what is going to happen.”

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