Leicester to see more students, higher tax rate

LEICESTER — Unlike Otter Valley Union High School, which lost 13 students compared to the prior year, falling enrollment is not an issue at the Leicester Central  School, which grew by 13 students — yet, oddly, costs are still up at the elementary school.
According to Leicester School board member Connie Carroll, current enrollment at the school stands at 71 students, up from 58 students last year. Carroll said they expect 74 students next year.
“We’re projecting a 20 percent increase over the next three years,” she said.
While that bucks the trend in many area schools, it is not without its financial pitfalls. Carroll said the number of students drives cost up in three areas: Rutland Northeast central office budget contributions, special education and transportation.
“It has significant impact on the budget,” Carroll said. “These costs get parceled out according to enrollment, and if our enrollment is up, our contribution to the pie is bigger, especially if other enrollments are down.”
The $1,127,521 Leicester school budget for fiscal year 2013-2014 that voters will decide on Town Meeting day amounts to a 6.3 percent, or $66,863, increase over the current budget.
“That’s before we even open the door,” Carroll said. “That’s as bare bones as you can get.”
The projected education tax rate for Leicester will rise from $1.37 to $1.43, a 6-cent increase. The rate is based on an increased state education tax rate increase of 3 cents, from $0.89 to $0.92
Rising insurance costs via Blue Cross/Blue Shield are responsible for an almost $20,000 increase in next year’s proposed budget.
Special education costs rose from $219,000 to $240,000, a 9 percent increase.
The RNeSU transportation assessment went from $27,158 to $32,933 and the RNeSU Central Office assessment rose from $45,786 to $49,746.
Funding the after school program went from $5,000 to $8,000 due to the loss of grants that previously funded the program.
While costs are up, however, so is revenue from the state based on the increased number of pupils.
The way Vermont’s education funding formula works, however, is that schools receive state education funding based on the number “equalized pupils,” not the number of actual students. The tax rate is determined by per pupil spending, so the more students a school enrolls while still keeping costs down, the lower the per pupil spending, which in turns lower the tax rate. Per pupil spending is usually determined by the state over a two-year average, but anytime the student population increases by at least 20 kids, the average is accelerated and the lower per pupil spending is applied right away.
So, even though Leicester counts 71 students in its enrollment, the state counts 63 equalized pupils and bases its funding on that number. The state counted 60 equalized pupils in Leicester for the current budget. That said, Leicester’s state funding is projected to rise based on the increase of three equalized pupils, not 14 real pupils, from $815,046 to $874,812. Roughly $622,100 of that is state money, and $252,709 is local tax money, but it all goes into the same pot and is then doled back out by the state.
All of this means that Leicester still has to provide services and supplies for more students than the state uses in determining revenue.
At the Leicester School, there are four teachers and two principals that split a part-time position. That principal set-up makes it so the board does not have to pay benefits.
But Carroll said that Leicester taxpayers are getting plenty of bang for their buck, citing the fact that Leicester School was one of few area schools to make Adequate Yearly Progress in state testing last year, despite a high number of students who live in poverty.
“That is a testament to the fact that we’re doing it right, even though we’re doing it on a shoestring,” Carroll said. “Our teachers are doing a great job.”

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