Tax increase possible in Middlebury with ACSU plan

MIDDLEBURY — The Addison Central Supervisory Union board on Oct. 16 will consider a major change in how it assigns special education and central office expenses to the eight districts within the union, a change that would likely result in a property tax increase for Middlebury residents.
The proposal to change the assessment formula for special education expenses is not generating a lot of controversy; it is a transition being driven by state statute. Right now, taxpayers in the ACSU-member towns of Middlebury, Cornwall, Bridport, Salisbury, Ripton, Shoreham and Weybridge are responsible for special education expenses incurred by the children within their respective communities. The ACSU board next Wednesday will vote on whether to pool (centralize) those special education costs and to assess them to the towns based on student count.
“Using equalized pupils as the student count is appropriate since schools are funded based on equalized pupils,” reads a memo to the ACSU board explaining the proposed assessment change.
Former ACSU Superintendent Gail Conley, prior to leaving this past June, suggested the supervisory union also consider changing the manner in which central office expenses (totaling $1,585,857 this year) are assessed to the member districts, an initiative that current Superintendent Peter Burrows has now placed on the board’s agenda.
This central office proposal is proving more controversial — particularly in Middlebury.
Central office expenses — which include ACSU administration, technology, professional development, insurance and advertising costs — are currently assessed based on the district schools’ number of licensed educators. Assessments this year ranged from $50,597 for Ripton (with 6.5 full-time equivalent teachers) to $763,438 for UD-3, which has a combined total of 98 full-time equivalent educators in Middlebury Union middle and high schools.
Basing the assessment on equalized student counts at the schools — as is being proposed — would have the effect of increasing the assessments on UD-3 and ID-4 (the Middlebury elementary school district), as they have by far the largest enrollments of any schools within the ACSU. This means ID-4 would be responsible for roughly 22.5 percent of the total ACSU central office assessment, instead of the current 20.65 percent, which would have translated into a $28,654 increase for Middlebury taxpayers had the new system been in effect this year.
Conversely, the assessments for the six other elementary schools would decline, ranging from $17,654 in Ripton to $41,955 in Bridport. Those savings in the six towns would somewhat be offset by an increase of $121,041 in the UD-3 assessment. But it would mean a double-whammy for Middlebury taxpayers, who would see their assessment increase at both the ID-4 and UD-3 levels.
“Obviously, we’re not happy about that,” ID-4 board Chairwoman Ruth Hardy said of the impact of the new assessment system. “We are concerned about an increase to our budget that is really beyond our control. It is something that is just happening to us rather than something we are planning for. I think there are some concerns that it is not fair to schools like ID-4 and UD-3 that have more students and need to run a more efficient operation, to have to pay more for central office services.”
Mark Perrin is chairman of the ACSU board, a Middlebury resident and a UD-3 board member, so he can see the effect of the proposed assessment switch at several levels.
“As a Middlebury taxpayer, you get a double-hit,” Perrin acknowledged.
And there’s not much Middlebury representatives will be able to do about it, if ACSU board members vote on the best financial deal for their respective constituents. Each of the seven towns and UD-3 possess three votes on the ACSU board. That means representatives of the six towns that would financially benefit from the proposed assessment switch for ACSU central office expenses can easily out-vote their UD-3 and ID-4 colleagues to ratify the change, if they so choose.
“I think if (the Middlebury and UD-3 reps.) are representing their taxpayers the way they should, they will probably stand on their heels and say ‘This is unfair,’” Perrin said.
Regardless of how the Oct. 16 vote plays out, Hardy hopes the ACSU board will not harbor any hard feelings and will be able to work together to advance education programs for the entire ACSU student population.
“We’re all trying to work together and to share the costs of education in a way … where we can start to see all of the kids in our supervisory union as all of our kids, rather than pitting them against each other district by district,” Hardy said. “They are all our kids, they all go to the high school and we want to provide as good an education to the kids as we can.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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