ACSU school budgets rising, some tax rates going up faster

MIDDLEBURY — The proposed 2015-2016 budgets for six of the Addison Central Supervisory Union’s seven elementary schools reflect spending increases ranging from 0.2 percent to 5.35 percent, but the impact on taxpayers in most communities will be greater due to declining enrollment and other variables.
School boards representing the ACSU-member towns of Bridport, Cornwall, Ripton, Salisbury, Shoreham and Weybridge have finalized 2015-2016 budget proposals that will be put to local voters at March town meeting. School directors in the ACSU’s seventh community, Middlebury, are still fine tuning a spending plan that will be considered by citizens in April.
ACSU Superintendent Peter Burrows said all six elementary school budgets to be fielded this March do not include any significant new initiatives or new hires. They were built in anticipation of a 2-cent hike (from the current 98 cents per $100 in property value, to $1) in the statewide education property tax rate for fiscal year 2016.
The budgets reflect a negotiated 3-percent increase in teacher salaries and a boost of around 4 percent in health care premiums.
“We are certainly aware of the challenges of funding public education and want to be as fiscally responsible as possible,” Burrows said. “I think the school boards have done a wonderful job this year funding essential programs, finding efficiencies and going to the taxpayers with budgets that are responsible and student-centered.”
Communities seeing a pattern of lower student numbers and/or a decline in their common level of appraisal (CLA) will see a greater impact on their respective education property tax rates.
Fewer students means less state assistance for the school budget.
The CLA is an equalization ratio used to adjust the assessed value of property within a municipality to its estimated fair market value. Each municipality’s CLA is used to calculate its actual homestead and non-residential education property tax rates.
The following is a brief overview of the six 2015-2016 ACSU elementary budgets that will be put before voters in March:
The Bridport Central School budget is being pitched at $1,536,626, representing a 4.96-percent increase compared to this year’s spending plan of $1,464,069. But the town’s K-12 homestead education property tax rate is expected to rise by just a penny (to $1.86), due to a recent spike in student numbers. The school currently serves 85 students.
Burrows said the budget proposal does not include additional staff. He pointed to debt service obligations and an out-of-district placement as among the reasons for the budget increase.
Bridport is currently searching for a new principal.
Cornwall school directors are proposing a Bingham Memorial School budget of $1,497,298, which is 3.17 percent more than this year’s spending plan. But the resulting K-12 education property tax rate is expected to increase by 5.7 cents to $1.649.
“There is nothing really remarkable, in terms of the budget,” Burrows said of the plan, which preserves current programs and staffing.
Cornwall’s enrollment — currently 77 — is expected to remain fairly stable next year.
Like Bridport, Cornwall is searching for a new principal to take the helm by this summer.
Ripton will field a 2015-2016 spending plan of $905,614, which is a 1.25 percent boost compared to this year. But the district is projecting a K-12 homestead education property tax rate of $1.88 for Ripton, which would be a 10-cent (5.35 percent) hike.
Burrows pointed to the recent trend of declining enrollment as a reason for the tax jump.
“Budgets are based on the number of students,” he said. “You lose students, the taxes are going to go up.”
Ripton currently serves 43 elementary students. The school has had some success attracting tuitioned students from Route 100 communities like Hancock and Granville that do not run their own elementary programs. Burrows said the school hopes to attract 10 out-of-district students this fall.
The Salisbury Community School spending plan is being proposed at $1,691,196, which would be a 3.9-percent increase compared to this year’s budget of $1,627,202. But Salisbury’s K-12 homestead education property tax rate is being forecast at $1.80, which would be a 10-cent bump from the current rate of $1.70.
Burrows said the jump in the tax rate is in part due to the fact that the school has less reserve revenue to apply to this year’s spending plan.
Salisbury has 101 students this year.
In Shoreham, voters will decide a budget proposal of $1,500,682, which translates into a 0.2-percent bump over the current spending plan. The K-12 homestead education property tax rate is being forecast at $1.684, which would be a boost of around 8 cents (or almost 5 percent) compared to this year.
Burrows cited declining student numbers and a drop in the local CLA as reasons for the projected tax hike. Shoreham Elementary has 70 students this year.
Weybridge residents will face a proposed school spending plan of $1,098,470, which would be a 5.35-percent increase compared to this year. The budget would drive a K-12 homestead education property tax rate jump from the current $2.029 to $2.087, reflecting a 2.38-percent increase.
The budget reflects no significant increases in programs. Weybridge currently serves 54 students.
ACSU residents can learn more about their respective elementary school budgets at their annual town meetings, slated for Monday, March 2, at all towns except Bridport, which will be on Tuesday, March 3.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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