ACSU elementary schools rein in spending, tax impacts

MONTPELIER — Residents in six of the seven Addison County Supervisory Union towns this March will vote on proposed 2016-2017 elementary school budgets that reflect a decrease in their respective homestead education tax rates.
The decreases, according to ACSU Superintendent Peter Burrows, are in large part a response to new state law.
Vermont’s Act 46 prescribes per-pupil spending guidelines for all of the state’s school districts for the next two years as a precursor to school governance consolidation. The law also calls upon school districts to band together under a single school board overseeing a single budget.
Lawmakers are banking on these consolidations to help contain school spending at a time when Vermont’s student population is shrinking. Act 46’s per-pupil spending guidelines (if schools spend beyond the guidelines they will face a double tax) were designed to limit education spending statewide to a 2-percent increase next year.
Burrows was pleased to report that all seven ACSU schools will conform to the Act 46 spending restrictions. The ACSU is one of around a dozen supervisory unions statewide that is seeking voter approval for a unified school district this year.
“We came into this budget season with the cost-containment measures of Act 46 looming overhead,” Burrows said on Monday. “We knew that we had to be really clear about what was important to fund and continue, and what wasn’t. We do that every year — but this year, especially, we knew this was something that we would be looking at throughout the process.
Burrows shared basic details of the latest 2016-2017 budget drafts for the ACSU elementary schools in Bridport, Cornwall, Middlebury, Ripton, Salisbury, Shoreham and Weybridge. While those budgets are substantially defined, a few — such as Middlebury’s and Ripton’s — could undergo some final tweaks before being presented to voters on Town Meeting Day, Burrows noted.
As the proposed elementary budgets currently stand, all but Ripton’s reflect homestead education tax decreases compared to this year. The current draft of the Ripton Elementary School budget calls for 0.9-percent increase in the education tax rate, which is largely a product of a change in its Common Level of Appraisal (CLA) rate. 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 seven draft ACSU elementary school budgets essentially maintain current programming and staff levels, with one major change: Beginning this fall, all elementary schools in Vermont must offer pre-K education. Ripton and Bridport have already been offering pre-K programming, so now Cornwall, Salisbury, Shoreham, Weybridge and Middlebury’s Mary Hogan Elementary schools will be following suit.
“(Pre-K) was a significant increase on some of our budgets, but it also gave us an increase in the number of equalized pupils that we could count,“ Burrows said. This essentially means that the new students will receive some state funding to help defray the costs of their pre-K education.
It should also be noted that the draft Mary Hogan Elementary budget reflects a new, full-time Spanish language teacher. ID-4 school district officials have for the past several years been trying to re-introduce foreign language instruction at the Middlebury school. Burrows explained that the time now seems right, as Middlebury Union Middle School has begun offering foreign language instruction to 7th graders. This means that Mary Hogan graduates would be able to seamlessly continue language learning upon entering MUMS, instead of facing a one-year program hiatus until 8th grade.
Middlebury voters also need to remember that the ID-4 budget will this year be decided on Town Meeting Day in March. Residents approved that change at a special meeting last spring. Historically, the annual ID-4 budget has been decided at a special district gathering in April.
Burrows also noted some significant capital improvement projects on tap next year for the Shoreham, Cornwall and Bridport schools. The Cornwall school needs electrical system upgrades, while the Bridport and Shoreham schools need work on their respective boiler systems, according to Burrows. These costs will either be worked into the schools’ regular budget requests or will be covered by local capital reserve funds, officials said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
Elementary school budget plans
Details of draft spending proposals for 2016-2017
•  Bridport school directors are proposing a spending plan of $1,562,807, representing a 1.7-percent increase compared to this year. If the budget were passed, Bridport’s homestead education tax rate would go down roughly 10 cents — from $1.853 to $1.748.
•  Cornwall school directors are proposing a spending plan of $1,479,162, representing a 1.21-percent decrease compared to this year. If the budget is OK’d, Cornwall’s homestead education tax rate would go down roughly 6.5 cents — from $1.643 to $1.579.
•  Middlebury school directors are still revising a spending plan of $7,338,047, which would be up 8.3 percent from this year’s $6,775,965 budget. The current version of the budget would lower the town’s homestead education tax rate from $1.853 to $1.753.
•  Salisbury school directors are proposing a spending plan of $1,765,719, representing a 4.41-percent increase compared to this year. If voters approve it, Salisbury’s homestead education tax rate would go down roughly 9 cents — from $1.796 to $1.707.
•  Shoreham school directors are proposing a spending plan of $1,567,125, representing a 4.4-percent increase compared to this year. If OK’d, Shoreham’s homestead education tax rate would go down roughly 6 cents — from $1.723 to $1.65.
•  Ripton school directors are still working on a spending plan of $952,106, which would represent a 5.13-percent increase compared to this year. If the budget passes, Ripton’s homestead education tax rate would increase by roughly a penny — from $1.872 to $1.881.
•  Weybridge school directors are proposing a spending plan of $1,177,459, representing a 7.19-percent increase compared to this year. If OK’d, Weybridge’s homestead education tax rate would go down roughly 8 cents — from $2.078 to $1.93.
— John Flowers

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