ANeSU budget calls for tax hike in towns

BRISTOL — About two dozen Addison Northeast Supervisory Union voters on Tuesday unanimously adopted all the articles on the agenda at the Mount Abraham Union High School annual meeting and discussed a district budget that would raise taxes for each of the five towns.
The voters present from the five ANeSU towns elected school officials and set their salaries, and debated details of the roughly $14.1 million Mount Abraham budget.
Moderator Pam Marsh presided over the meeting, which was attended by residents, the Mount Abraham school board, principal Andy Kepes, ANeSU superintendent David Adams and business manager Ed Gomeau.
The Mount Abraham budget proposal totals $14,091,304, a 2 percent increase from the current spending of about $13.8 million. 
If approved as warned, the budgets for Mount Abraham and the ANeSU elementary schools would cause school tax rates to rise in each of the five ANeSU towns. The schools’ declining enrollments and a projected 7-cent hike in the statewide education property tax rate are also pushing local school tax rates up.
Those projected rates, after adjustments for Common Levels of Appraisals (CLAs) are as follows: Bristol, $1.7085; Lincoln, $1.5315; Monkton, $1.9069; New Haven $1.5966; and Starksboro, $1.6646.
Monkton, Bristol and Starksboro’s CLAs are below 100 percent and are driving those towns’ school tax rates higher.
Adams said cost drivers across the district include a negotiated 3 percent increase in teacher salaries and a 2.6 percent hike in support staff salaries. ANeSU officials also anticipate that health insurance premiums will increase by 4.5 percent. Higher supplies costs also contribute to the increase, they said.
Special education expenses for all ANeSU schools were consolidated into the ANeSU district office budget. At Mount Abe, this accounting change resulted in the share of the budget from staff salaries and benefits falling from 70 percent in the current fiscal year to 56 percent in proposed spending. Elementary schools also saw costs drop.
However, the proposed ANeSU office budget for the 2015 fiscal year is rising by $4,846,272, with 88 percent of the increase due to the special education consolidation. The schools’ assessments from the central office are increasing under the budget proposal to reflect the accounting change.
The consolidation from school budgets into the central office of information technology costs represents another increase, 6.3 percent, in higher central office spending. Purchased services, such as additional staff for special education students, represent 5 percent.  
ANeSU, like most districts across the state, is also grappling with decreasing enrollment. The current enrollment at Mount Abraham is 752, a number Adams said he estimates will fall by 20 to 25 students next year.
Kepes said Mount Abe enrollment peaked at more than 900 students in the past decade and included a single class of 180 students. The class size in the district currently averages 118 students, although four of the six elementary school grades come in below that number. The current ANeSU fifth-grade class has just 84 students.
The decrease in the number of students is causing a district-wide increase in per-pupil spending, according to state calculations, to $14,706 from $14,055, a hike of almost 5 percent.
That increase in turn puts pressure on school tax rates over and above the increase in approved school spending. The projected hike in the statewide education property tax rate is further raising local property tax rates.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Marsh elected as moderator, Karen Wheeler as clerk and treasurer and Craig Allen as auditor. Those present also voted to keep the elected officials’ salaries the same as the current fiscal year. They are as follows: Board members, $1,000; Board Chair, $1,500; treasurer, $2,100; moderator, $50; clerk, $100; auditors, $10 per hour.
The board will have to select a new chair, as current chair Lanny Smith decided not to run for another term in March. 
Before the meeting adjourned, board member Bonita Bedard rose to thank retiring district employees Kepes, Diane Treadway and Nancy Cornell for their service, drawing applause from those in attendance. Kepes has served first as a teacher at Mount Abraham and then principal since 2009, Cornell most recently as assistant superintendent, and Treadway as director of special education.
“These folks have been huge contributors to the community and supervisory union,” Bedard said.
Zach Despart may be reached at [email protected].

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