Middlebury-area schools propose spending plans

MIDDLEBURY — Directors at six of the Addison Central Supervisory Union’s seven elementary schools have drafted 2013-2014 budget proposals that run the gamut from a 1.68-percent spending decrease in Weybridge to a 9.13-percent spending increase in Bridport.
Meanwhile, Bingham Memorial School directors in Cornwall have crafted a 2013-14 spending plan that features a rather ordinary 3-percent ($40,197) spending hike that will nonetheless trigger a state law requiring that the budget be fielded in two separate votes.
The budgets in question reflect spending requests for the ACSU elementary schools in Bridport, Cornwall, Ripton, Salisbury, Shoreham and Weybridge that will be out before voters at town meetings this March. The seventh ACSU-member community, Middlebury, continues to work on a Mary Hogan Elementary School budget that will be decided by voters in April.
Laura Nassau, business manager for the ACSU, noted that changes in all six elementary school spending plans are largely being driven by personnel costs. The lack (thus far) of a settled teachers’ contract for next year means administrators have to budget their best guess for salary increases. District-wide health care costs are expected to increase by more than 10 percent, according to Nassau.
Various nuances of the state’s education funding law mean that the property tax-affecting portion of the budgets will vary from town to town depending on such factors as per-pupil spending, enrollment levels and the common level of appraisal (CLA). The CLA is a ratio used to adjust the assessed value of property within a municipality to its estimated fair market value so that property owners in towns around the state are not penalized or unduly benefited by the assessment of their property when taxes are levied. Each municipality’s CLA is used to calculate its actual homestead and non-residential education property tax rates.
Bridport Central School directors are proposing a 2013-14 spending plan of $1,452,750, representing a 9.13-percent bump ($121,555) in spending compared to this year. Nassau and Bridport School Board member Rick Scott noted a large chunk of the increase is associated with a recently implemented pre-K program and special education costs. But Scott stressed that the school will receive some state reimbursement for its anticipated special education expenses and some fund balance to carry forward that would have the effect of reducing Bridport Central’s net increase to 4.2 percent.
Officials have budgeted around $25,000 extra for salaries and $20,000 for expected increases in health insurance premiums.
Bridport Central’s proposed budget would result in a local homestead education property tax rate of $1.6557 per $100 in property value, representing a 6.65-percent increase compared to this year, according to Nassau. She noted current tax-impact figures are based on state numbers that could change depending on decisions made in Montpelier.
Scott is hopeful Bridport residents will endorse the proposed spending plan.
“For the past three years we have delivered essentially a flat budget,” Scott said. “An increase was inevitable.”
It will take two separate votes by Cornwall voters on March 4 to decide a total of $1,378,132 in spending for the Bingham Memorial School. State law requires the vote on this budget to be divided because the district’s spending per pupil last year was more than the statewide average; and this year’s proposed budget is greater than last year’s budget when adjusted for inflation.
As a consequence, Cornwall residents will first vote on a $1,355,963 portion of the spending plan, then the $22,169 portion that exceeds the inflationary guideline prescribed by state law.
John Eagan, co-chairman of the Cornwall School Board, said he and his colleagues had discussed the option of reducing the spending plan by $22,169 in order to avoid the second vote. But school directors held their ground on a $1,378,132 budget that represents a 3-percent spending increase ($42,000) that is substantially attributable to projected bumps in salaries and health insurance costs.
If approved, the budget (and related CLA factors) will have the effect of reducing the K-12 local homestead education property tax rate by 2.02 percent to $1.50 per $100 in property value.
Eagan said the two-vote requirement has been frustrating for board members who are nonetheless hopeful that townspeople support the proposed budget.
Ripton Elementary School directors are pitching a 2013-14 budget of $808,931, a 4.33-percent increase ($33,571) compared to this year. Nassau said roughly $12,000 is related to expected salary increases while health insurance costs are expected to rise 11.3 percent. The budget also reflects an increase in personnel to offset an anticipated maternity leave. The spending plan also features a substantial bump in transportation costs, associated with a new bus that will bring in tuitioned students from Granville and Hancock. The tuition receipts are expected to more than make up for the extra transportation costs, officials said.
The tax-affecting portion of the budget is expected to rise by 1.7 percent, producing a local homestead education property tax rate of $1.61 per $100 in property value.
There will be a couple of other school-related funding decisions on Ripton’s town meeting warning. The first involves a request to set aside $25,000 into an education reserve fund. Voters will also be asked to bond a combined total of around $380,000 to finance a new roof and place a solar array system on it. The Addison Independent will explain the new roof and solar energy projects in a separate article next week.
Salisbury voters at their town meeting will decide a proposed school budget of $1,560,529, which represents a spending bump of 7.82 percent ($113,210) compared to this year. Nassau said the increase is largely related to salary and benefits increases, along with a one-time purchase of computer equipment for the school. Salisbury will be able to tap into a fund balance carried over from the previous year to help soften the financial impact of the new equipment.
Due to the CLA and other factors, the proposed budget is expected to produce a local homestead education property tax rate of $1.669 per $100 in property value, an increase of 12.43 percent.
School directors in Shoreham are proposing a 2013-14 elementary budget of $1,467,825, representing a 2.9-percent boost in spending compared to this year. Much of the $41,424 is associated with increases in salaries and benefits, according to Nassau. School directors are proposing to use $52,000 in fund balance carried over from the prior year to reduce the impact of the spending plan, Nassau noted.
The budget would produce a local homestead education property tax rate of $1.57 per $100 in property value, representing a 3.62 percent increase compared to this year.
The student population at Weybridge Elementary (and most other ACSU schools) continues to decline, and that phenomenon is contributing to a draft 2013-14 budget of $953,945, which amounts to a 1.68-percent ($16,332) spending reduction compared to this year. Weybridge Elementary’s student numbers are projected to decrease by 19 percent to under 50 students, according to Nassau, though the town’s enrollment is expected to correspondingly increase at the middle school and high school level.
Weybridge residents last year approved a budget of $970,277, which was a 14.6-percent decrease from the prior year.
Local school directors were able to reduce the proposed spending plan by, among other things, cutting back slightly on secretarial and custodial services. The school is also expecting a decrease in special education expenses next year.
The budget is projected to increase the K-12 local homestead education property tax rate by 5.12 percent to $1.794 per $100 in property value.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]

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