Ferrisburgh cuts school budget $120k, sets May 13 revote

FERRISBURGH — The Ferrisburgh Central School board on Thursday made final a $3.5 million budget proposal that removes about $120,000 from the board’s initial plan that lost on March 4, 450-279.
The board also set May 13 as a revote date. The Vergennes Union High School board will meet this Monday evening to adopt a new budget plan and is also expected to call for a May 13 vote, Addison Northwest Supervisory Union officials said.
The major change from the defeated central school budget is the board’s move to scrap a plan to add a fourth teacher and a modular classroom to help handle a large blended 5th- and 6th-grade class.
Neither Principal JoAnn Taft-Blakely nor ANwSU officials had endorsed the extra teacher and classroom. That board decision on Thursday saved around $90,000, officials said.
The board also decided to make a $20,000 security system upgrade a separate article. It would pay for a keyless electronic entry system like that now used at VUHS.
ANwSU business manager Kathy Cannon said central school officials have had a hard time keeping track of who had keys for the building.
“The system in Ferrisburgh is antiquated,” Cannon said.
Taft-Blakely said another roughly $11,000 was saved by working around the edges, mostly in increments of $100 to $500.
“We looked at cuts that did not impact any of our instructional programs,” she said. “I didn’t think we could find another $10,000 in the budget because it is so tight.”
If Ferrisburgh voters approve the new plan in May, central school spending would increase from the current level of about $3.26 million to $3,498,873, or by 7.26 percent.
Cannon said most of that extra spending is due to a special education cost shift within ANwSU. Starting next year, all special education expenses within the union will be shared among the schools on a per-pupil basis. ANwSU officials say that change will in the long run soften the at-times dramatic impact of special education costs at a single school in a single year.
In the first year of the change it will have the effect of decreasing costs at VUHS and increasing costs at the three ANwSU elementary schools.
Even with the $120,000 lower proposal made by the FCS board on Thursday and a VUHS budget being contemplated by the its board that is lower than current spending, Ferrisburgh homeowners are looking at a tax increase.
Higher than anticipated special education costs at VUHS created a deficit that must be retired, and that school’s declining enrollment has pushed per-pupil spending higher. Meanwhile, the statewide residential property tax rate is projected to rise by 4 cents, and the non-residential rate to increase by 8 cents.
Ferrisburgh’s current residential school tax rate is $1.2947, Cannon said, a figure that was lowered from $1.525 after the town’s previous Common Level of Appraisal (CLA) of 1.0947 was applied.
According to town officials, Ferrisburgh’s new CLA — a state-calculated figure that determines how close a town’s property evaluations are to fair market value — is 1.0201.
If both budgets pass, Ferrisburgh’s pre-CLA rate would be $1.57, only a modest increase from $1.525.
However, after the town’s new CLA is applied, the rate would drop only to around $1.53, meaning a roughly 23-cent residential tax hike is still possible in Ferrisburgh even with less than $120,000 of new spending between the two schools, officials said.
Without the reductions from the original FCS and VUHS proposals, Ferrisburgh homeowners would have faced up to a 32-cent increase should voters OK the new spending proposal, Cannon said.
Around 60 percent of Ferrisburgh’s homeowners are eligible for property tax prebates, according to the latest available Vermont Department of Taxes data, and would not feel the full brunt of any tax increase.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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