VUES board seeks 0.5% budget hike

VERGENNES — The Vergennes Union Elementary School board on Monday made final a decision to put before voters on Town Meeting Day a $3.91 million budget proposal for 2012-13 that would increase current spending by $20,500, or 0.5 percent.
Addison Northwest Supervisory Union officials are cautiously optimistic that spending proposal, combined with the recently proposed $8.97 million Vergennes Union High School spending plan, would lead to little or no school tax hikes in the three towns served by VUES.
ANwSU Superintendent Tom O’Brien and business manager Kathy Cannon said they used preliminary numbers released by state education officials to create estimates, and the Vermont Legislature could opt to tweak them during its winter session.
“The factors we based the tax rates on could change,” Cannon said.
Their estimates also do not include adjustments for common levels of appraisal (CLAs), but it does not look like CLAs will push ANwSU rates upward this year. CLAs are the ratios of the value of towns’ sold property (using actual sales data) compared to their grand list assessments, per state tax department calculations.
Panton’s CLA stands at 84.25 of market value, up from about 78 percent a year ago. The higher figure will mean less of an upward adjustment on the tax rate and possibly a downward adjustment of several percent.
The Vergennes CLA is essentially stable, 101.38 percent this year compared to a little less than 101 percent a year ago.
Waltham’s CLA dropped slightly, standing at 94.84 now compared to almost 96 percent a year ago. Waltham’s school tax rate could thus be adjusted upward by a little more than 1 percent.
Given the qualifiers, ANwSU officials project that if both the VUES and VUHS budgets are adopted, the pre-CLA school tax rates in each town will be:
•$1.235 in Panton, compared to $1.2356 a year ago.
•$1.235 in Vergennes, compared to $1.2387 a year ago.
•$1.236 in Waltham, compared to $1.2412 a year ago.
The significant increases in the VUES budget are about $53,000 in anticipated raises and benefits — essentially “step” increases that follow the template of the teachers’ contract that expires in June, plus higher health insurance costs — and a higher assessment (by almost $34,000) from the ANwSU office.
That assessment increase is largely driven by a decrease in federal support for the Early Essential Education program administered through the central office, and an increase in the needs of VUES students in that program, ANwSU officials said.
The increases are being offset by a $37,500 drop in special education costs due to lesser needs in the VUES population, and smaller savings from a cost shift in the speech pathologist’s salary, lower anticipated borrowing expenses, and lower energy costs after recent improvements to the VUES building.
The VUES board also has decided to ask voters to back a $100,000 bond to fund new roofing at the school.
Cannon said work is proposed for a roughly 1,300-square-foot area at the front of the school where two wings meet. The area is now flat, she said, and requires a heavy-duty truss system to create a new sloping roof surface that will solve an ongoing problem with ponding on the roof that causes interior leaking.
Paying off the bond will not affect the budget now being proposed, but would add about $16,000 or $17,000 a year to the following seven budgets and about a half-cent to the three towns’ tax rates, Cannon said.
O’Brien said in crafting the budget that voters will decide this March, administrators and the board came close to meeting the original goal.
“We set out to level-fund … and then made some decisions about how far we were going to go,” he said. “There are very minor increases, if any, across the board.”
O’Brien said historically the VUES administration and board have been frugal; for example, the spending plan for the current school year (2011-2012) is almost $4,000 lower than that of the previous school year (2010-2011).
He praised all the ANwSU boards for preserving essential programs and keeping spending in check — O’Brien said unlike most school districts ANwSU met goals set forth in a recent state law seeking caps on spending.
But the work will only get harder in the years to come, he said.
“We were one of the few supervisory unions who met the Challenge for Change legislation,” O’Brien said. “There’s not much left to cut except for programs and personnel now.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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