VUHS board makes cuts to budget, tax rates for revote

VERGENNES — The Vergennes Union High School board has made final its third budget proposal for the 2015-2016 school year — a $10,258,933 spending plan — to place before Addison Northwest Supervisory Union voters on June 9.
The board at a meeting Saturday morning agreed with ANwSU and VUHS administrators to cut $55,000 from the plan defeated by 722-676, or 46 votes, on May 5.
That cut will lower the tax impact of the budget by about 1 cent, officials said. ANwSU tax estimates have also been lowered by another cent since early May because those estimates assumed a $1.00 statewide homestead tax rate. Instead, the Legislature settled on a 99-cent rate.
VUHS board members and ANwSU administrators also believe the budget lost on May 5 at least in part because of the addition of a second article asking for an additional $156,000 of support, and this time no such baggage is attached.
Despite the $55,000 cut approved this past Saturday, the latest VUHS budget is still seeking an increase of $845,000 from the current VUHS budget.
That huge overall spending increase, which comes despite the cut of three teaching positions a year ago and four more in this plan, is driven by two major factors:
•  $256,000 that will go toward retiring a $768,419 special education deficit that has accrued, officials said, from years of underestimating those expenses by former administrators.
•  $439,000 in higher anticipated spending on special education. Officials said that figure represents a more realistic estimate of those costs.
Still, school tax hikes in the five ANwSU towns for all school spending would range from a more modest 1.6 to 4.65 percent.
Those estimates include the three elementary school budgets that have already passed and take into account adjustments for Common Levels of Appraisals (CLAs), ANwSU officials said.
School tax increases in the five ANwSU towns would range from about $25 to $66 per $100,000 of assessed value. Some of those increases are already locked into place with the approval of elementary school budgets and capital improvement line items at VUHS and elementary schools.
Taxpayers eligible for prebates would pay those full increases in the first year, but would receive tax relief in the following year. About two-thirds of Addison County homeowners receive tax relief.
Within ANwSU, for example, annual property tax relief in 2011 ranged from an average of $1,065 in Vergennes to an average of $1,983 in Ferrisburgh.
If the roughly $10.259 million spending plan passes on June 9, ANwSU estimates:
•  The new residential homestead tax rate in ADDISON would be $1.4915, an increase of about 6 cents, or 4.2 percent.
That would translate to an additional $60 of taxes per $100,000 of assessed value in the first year.  
•  The new residential homestead tax rate in FERRISBURGH would be $1.6058, an increase of about 4.9 cents, or 3.1 percent.
That would translate to an additional $49 of taxes per $100,000 of assessed value in the first year. 
•  The new residential homestead tax rate in PANTON would be $1.5241, an increase of about 6.6 cents, or 4.5 percent.
That would translate to an additional $66 of taxes per $100,000 of assessed value in the first year. 
•  The new residential homestead tax rate in VERGENNES would be $1.4814, an increase of about 6.6 cents, or 4.65 percent.
That would translate to an additional $66 of taxes per $100,000 of assessed value in the first year. 
•  The new residential homestead tax rate in WALTHAM would be $1.6262, an increase of about 2.5 cents, or 1.6 percent.
That would translate to an additional $25 of taxes per $100,000 of assessed value in the first year.
ANwSU officials had estimated if the $10.31 million VUHS budget had passed on May 5 there would have been residential school tax increases of 5 cents in Waltham, 7 cents in Addison and Ferrisburgh, and 8.5 cents in Panton and Vergennes.
At their Saturday meeting, board members considered a plan to spread deficit repayment over five years instead of three, but opted not to when the final numbers were in.
ANwSU officials said they had studied the impact and concluded that the savings would be less than a cent on the tax rate — for instance the cost of taking two years longer to retire the deficit would save just eight-tenths of a cent on the Vergennes residential tax rate next year.
Waltham board member Jeffry Glassberg spoke first in favor of the three year retirement schedule. He noted the small saving on the tax rate for the five-year plan, equal to $8 a year on $100,000 of assessed value, and said that the board’s hands could be tied if the deficit still existed in four years and another crisis arose.
Ferrisburgh board member George Gardner said he agreed, and the board reached consensus on the issue.
“I support Jeff 100 percent,” Gardner said. “We are just asking for more trouble down the road.”
The board also looked at, but never seriously discussed, a plan to cut about $100,000 from the budget, a move that would have meant eliminating wrestling and boys’ lacrosse teams and slashing stipends for the school’s teacher-leaders. Some of the dozen residents and teachers at the meeting spoke out against the extra-curricular cuts.
The cuts made included $29,500 discovered from a double-budgeted copier lease; that lease was also in the ANwSU budget. Also eliminated were some summer staff salaries and textbooks and supplies, and Principal Stephanie Taylor said VUHS could expect to save about $20,000 by hiring less experienced staff to fill expected vacancies.
Board members also discussed the problem VUHS would face with another budget defeat.
VUHS could proceed on July 1 with the assumption it had 87 percent of its current budget and continue to hold votes until a new budget passed, but Glassberg cited several problems: inaccurate initial tax bills and then multiple bills; morale among staff and students; more time wasted at the board and administrative levels focusing on budget, rather than educational, issues; and the perception among people interested in moving to the area that the community does not support its schools.
“I think there are significant consequences,” said Glassberg, who later concluded the meeting by saying, “We have to ask people to come and vote.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent.com.

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