Ferrisburgh school board seeks 11% hike

FERRISBURGH — The Ferrisburgh Central School board last week adopted a budget proposal for the 2014-2015 school year that calls for a spending increase of almost 11 percent to $3.62 million and adds a new teacher — one not recommended by administrators — to help handle a large blended 5th- and 6th-grade class.  
According to the latest Addison Northwest Supervisory Union office estimates, the town’s residential school tax rate could rise by about 23 cents, or 16 percent, to fund both the proposed FCS and Vergennes Union High School budgets.
The VUHS board agreed on Monday to a 3 percent spending hike to about $9.78 million, including a separate $50,000 capital investment fund.
If both budgets are approved on Town Meeting Day, Ferrisburgh homeowners who are not eligible for prebates would be facing an increase of about $230 per $100,000 of assessed value.
According to the Vermont Department of Taxes more than 60 percent of town property taxpayers received prebates based on their income during the most recent year for which data is available.
Like all Vermont towns, the projected statewide property tax increase of 7 cents is driving up local estimated tax rates. ANwSU officials said that statewide increase could go even higher if education spending statewide increases at a rate more than about 4 percent.
Two factors in particular are driving spending higher within the FCS budget. The new method of accounting for special education spending within ANwSU is projected in the 2014-2015 school year to add money to the union’s elementary school budgets.
All schools will be assessed equally on a per-pupil basis for all the ANwSU special education spending, a measure that will protect each from the potentially dramatic budget impact that special needs students can have on budgets. During this and the coming years, however, the bulk of the special needs students can be found at VUHS, meaning the cost is shifting for now to the three ANwSU elementary schools.
ANwSU Superintendent Tom O’Brien and business manager Kathy Cannon estimated the accounting shift will add almost $214,000 to the budget, triggering a face-value increase of 6.5 percent.
But, they said, that cost also comes with about $177,000 of revenue, and the actual impact on the school’s net education spending — a key element in determining per-pupil costs and tax rates — will be $37,000, or 1.3 percent.
The other factor is the board’s decision to add a fourth teacher to the 5th- and 6th-grade team, and to rent a modular classroom to accommodate the blended grades’ 61 students.
This year, Cannon and O’Brien said, three teachers on a team are rotating through three classrooms with a total of 58 5th- and 6th-graders.
The ANwSU administrators said a group of Ferrisburgh parents with children in the upper grade levels — including FCS board members — believes strongly the resulting 15-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio would be preferable to the existing roughly 20-to-1 ratio.
In a Jan. 11 email to O’Brien, FCS board chairman David Tatlock acknowledged, “the board’s final budget is significantly higher than the one proposed by the administration because of the board’s desire to add a teacher and a temporary classroom.” He added, “obviously, the voters need the unvarnished facts to make a decision.”
O’Brien said the board wrestled with the same decision a year ago and opted not to add the teacher and classroom. He had hoped cuts would be made from the roughly 8 percent increase that the budget faced before the board decided last week to add the teacher and classroom on a 3-1 vote, with Tatlock abstaining.
“We were … looking to modify it down a little bit,” O’Brien said.
Cannon said the decision added $84,000 to the proposed budget, including $19,000 to rent and install a modular classroom.
Because all of the additional spending is on education, those funds will have roughly double the impact of the special education cost shift on the school’s net education spending, and thus on the town’s school tax rate.
The only other significant budget change came in the addition of a keyless entry system that the ANwSU officials said would provide better security.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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