Ferrisburgh to decide school budget after cuts

FERRISBURGH — Ferrisburgh residents on Tuesday, May 13, will decide the fate of a $3.5 million Ferrisburgh Central School budget proposal that is about $120,000 lower than the FCS board’s initial plan that lost on March 4, 450-279, or about 62-38 percent.
That defeat of an FCS spending plan is believed to be the first in the school’s history. Adding to the budget problems on Town Meeting Day was a paperwork snafu: Ballots mistakenly presented the previous year’s $3.26 million budget. Several town officials had already predicted an FCS budget defeat before the ballot mix-up, however.
Balloting this time will be held at Ferrisburgh’s Route 7 town office building from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. Residents will at the same time be asked to cast their votes on a second Vergennes Union High School spending proposal.
The VUHS board made about $316,000 of cuts from the budget that was defeated on Town Meeting Day and has proposed a $9.4 million plan (see story, Page 1A). That VUHS proposal calls for less spending than the current budget.
The major change from the defeated Ferrisburgh 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 to change course saved around $90,000, officials said.
The board also decided to make a $20,000 security system upgrade a separate article that will also be on Tuesday’s ballot. It will, if approved, pay for a keyless electronic entry system like that now used at other local schools.
Taft-Blakely said another roughly $11,000 was saved from the defeated budget by working around the edges, mostly in increments of $100 to $500.
If voters approve the new plan on Tuesday, central school spending would increase from the current level of about $3.26 million to $3,498,873, or by 7.26 percent.
But most of that increase is not in apples-to-apples spending, according to Addison Northwest Supervisory Union officials — most of that extra spending is due to a special education cost shift within ANwSU.
Starting during the next school year, all special education expenses within ANwSU 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 new accounting method, the change 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 and the lower VUHS budget, Ferrisburgh homeowners are looking at a tax increase.
Higher than expected special education costs at VUHS in recent years created a deficit that must be retired, while also that school’s declining enrollment has pushed per-pupil spending higher. Meanwhile, the statewide residential property tax rate is projected to rise by at least 4 cents, and the non-residential rate to increase by 8 cents.
Ferrisburgh’s current residential school tax rate is $1.2947, said ANwSU business manager Kathy Cannon, 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 CLA — a state-calculated figure that determines how close a town’s property evaluations are to fair market value — is 1.0201. Because the town’s CLA has dropped from 2013, it will not trigger the same dramatic decrease in the tax rate, Cannon said.
If both budgets pass, Ferrisburgh’s pre-CLA rate would be $1.57, only a modest increase from $1.525.
But after the town’s new CLA is applied, the rate would drop only to around $1.53. That means 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, Cannon said.
However, 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.
The ANwSU estimates assume the 4-cent increase in the statewide residential property tax rate approved by the Vermont House of Representatives more than a month ago. However, the Vermont Senate last week threw a curveball, passing a bill pegging the residential tax rate hike at 6 cents.
The Legislature is tentatively set to adjourn on Saturday, by which time the House and Senate could reach agreement on that increase. However, it is not unusual for that deadline to be missed.
Cannon said ANwSU had not adjusted its estimate given the uncertainties of the situation.
“We can only work with the information with we have,” she said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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