ANeSU schools set budget proposals, all would see tax hikes

Editor’s note: This story was edited since it was originally posted to correct the Lincoln school spending plan number and the proposed increase in spending, and adjust the tax rates for the five towns.
BRISTOL — Proposed elementary school spending for next year is down in three of the five towns that comprise the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union. Nevertheless, all would see small increases in their tax rates, according to numbers supplied by district officials this week.
Superintendent David Adams said he was proud of the work that school boards in all five towns did in keeping to the district-wide goal of keeping costs down in budget proposals that will go before voters on Town Meeting Day.
“Overall, we’re quite pleased to be able to keep spending down,” he said.
Estimated tax changes in the towns range from a decrease of 3.6 percent in New Haven to an increase of almost 6 percent in Monkton. Adams stressed that these tax numbers were estimates at this point and that action in the Legislature will likely change the final numbers by Town Meeting Day.
Beeman Elementary in New Haven saw the greatest proposed spending decrease from last year’s budget, nearly 5 percent, while the Lincoln school board’s budget proposal represents an 6.9 percent spending increase.
Major cost drivers for each of the schools include fixed costs, such as an increase of 3 percent for the cost of professional salaries, an increase of 2.6 percent for support staff salaries and an estimated 4.5 percent increase in health insurance costs across all schools.
Adams said that expenditures alone do not tell the whole story. Non-tax revenues in all of the schools except Monkton Central are projected to be lower than the previous fiscal year. This revenue comes in a variety of forms, including of state and federal grants, and reimbursements for special education and transportation expenditures.
Adams said the state reimburses between 53 and 56 percent for special education expenses, such as staffing, occupational therapy or the services of a specialist. He added that the district has been affected by a reduction in consolidated federal education grants, which were gutted after Congress in 2012 passed a spending reduction measure referred to as sequestration.
Adams also noted changes to the district’s staffing structure. The previously half-time facilities director is now full-time, and the business manager position was changed to a chief financial officer position.
The district has also shifted the centralized costs for special education and technology expenses. Now, schools will no longer have to individually bear the costs of special education programs — instead, these costs will be shared with the other schools in the district.
“Everyone has a shared cost in all special education expenditures,” Adams said.
The district is also adopting a similar approach to centralizing its IT costs.
While it is difficult to make comparisons between the schools, as each has unique enrollment and expenditures, the ANeSU elementary schools face similar challenges.
Every school except Lincoln saw a decrease in enrollment between 2012-13 and 2013-14. Adams said it is difficult for school boards to address this trend, as it is not easy to scale back expenses in line with falling enrollment.
“For us, you have to have a critical mass to change the structure of operations at a school,” Adams said. “We can’t eliminate a classroom because of six less kids.”
Adams noted that declining enrollment is a problem districts face across Vermont.
“Everyone is trying to figure out what the tipping point is for cost per student,” Adams said. “I think that’s a statewide conversation.”
Smaller student bodies place an increased burden on taxpayers. As a result of falling enrollment, the spending per pupil will increase in each of the five schools if voters adopt the budgets as warned.
A summary of each of the budgets can be found below.
The Lincoln school board has proposed spending for 2014-2015 of $2,035,917, which represents and increase of $131,646, or 6.9 percent, over the current fiscal year. Non-tax revenue is projected to decrease 0.65 percent from last year, from $298,259 to $296,331. Per-pupil spending will increase 6.82 percent from $13,643 to $14,574.
ANeSU officials estimate homeowners in Lincoln will see a tax rate of $1.5315 per $100 of assessed property, which represents an increase of 10.91 cents, or 7.7 percent, from the current year’s actual rate of $1.4224.
New Haven
Proposed spending for Beeman Elementary is slightly less than $1.8 million, which is 4.93 percent less than the current year. Non-tax revenueis expected to fall 19.66 percent from last year, from $393,946 to $316,501. Per-pupil spending would increase 2.68 percent from $14,800 to $15,196.
As a result, the residential education property tax rate would be $1.5966 per $100 of assessed value— an increase of 19.44 cents, or 13.8 percent, from this year’s rate of $1.4022.
The Monkton school board has OK’d a 2014-2015 spending proposal of $2,578,248, which represents a decrease of 1.16 percent from the current fiscal year. Non-tax revenue is projected to increase from this fiscal year to the tune of 1.52 percent, from $289,682 to $294,093. Per-pupil spending will increase 2.21 percent from $15,109 to $15,444.
The residential property tax rate would go up 6.5 cents, or 3.5 percent, to $1.9069 from $1.8420.
The Bristol school board has proposed a draft budget of $4,799,307, a 1 percent decrease from the current fiscal year. Non-tax revenues are projected to fall 6.0 percent, from $798,479 to $750,314. Per-pupil spending will increase 1.9 percent from $14,296 to $14,567.
ANeSU officials estimate the Bristol residential property tax rate will be $1.7085, which is up 10.33 cents, or 6.5 percent, from $1.6052. 
The draft budget for Robinson Elementary sets spending at $2,650,857, an increase of 2.48 percent from this year. Non-tax revenue is projected to decrease from last year, from $430,319 to $384,810. Per-pupil spending will increase 9.28 percent from $13,065 to $14,277.
ANeSU officials estimate homeowners in Starksboro will see a tax rate of $1.6646, which represents an increase of 10.35 cents, or 6.6 percent, from $1.5611.

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