ANWSD spending plan calls for 4.89% increase
VERGENNES — The Addison Northwest School District Board residents on Tuesday will weigh in on a proposed 2019-2020 spending plan of $22,139,341 that if approved will preserve all existing ANWSD offerings and increase spending by 4.89 percent.
ANWSD Board Chairwoman Sue Rakowski said the board wanted to stand by district students and employees.
“The proposed budget maintains all ANWSD student programming and continues our commitment to high quality staffing by funding professional development and competitive salaries,” Rakowski said in an email to the Independent.
The budget, if a separate article asking residents to put $50,000 into a capital improvement fund is also approved, could potentially raise school tax rates in the five ANWSD communities by about 9.65 cents, according to the latest ANWSD estimates based on state figures. (See separate story on ANWSD ballots.)
That increase does not take into account individual town adjustments for common levels of appraisals (CLAs), although ANWSD towns are all close to 100 percent.
ANWSD officials caution the final tax rate numbers are in the hands of the Vermont Legislature (which decides the state contribution to education spending) and will not be known for at least a couple of months.
ANWSD business manager Elizabeth Atkins noted that in 2018 the final numbers dropped ANWSD education tax rates by several cents from local estimates. But district officials would not make any predictions about the outcome this time around.
“The tax yield number … changed pretty substantially last year after all the voters (statewide) approved budgets, so I cannot even attempt to guess what the Legislature will do with that figure,” Atkins wrote in an email.
Based on current estimates, if this budget is approved and a 9.65-cent hike results, most ANWSD homeowners who pay on the full value of their property could be looking at a roughly $96 increase per $100,000 of assessed value.
Those who pay based on their incomes, typically at least two-thirds of homeowners in most Addison County towns do so, would receive rebates and not feel the full impact of a tax increase.
The better news is that state officials raised the final ANWSD equalized student count by three to roughly 965. Students with special needs or whose first language is not English count more; the actual count at the end of this school year, per the district website, is 892.
The increased student count means ANWSD is unlikely to receive a dollar-for-dollar penalty for excess per-pupil spending when the final state rate is set, according to Atkins. The margin had been slim before the adjustment to the student count, according to discussion when the board adopted the budget in January.
“The excess penalty risk was reduced for us by the fact that our per-pupil number rose after we published our figures. So, we are further away from the penalty ceiling than we projected,” Atkins said.
Still, declining enrollment is causing most of the increase in the tax rate, although the decline has been less dramatic than in the past three years. Nor have budget increases been dramatic.
In the 2015-’16 school year the actual student count stood at 919, and the ANWSD budget was about $21.16 million.
The current number of actual students is 892, and next year’s budget calls for an increase from the budget of four years ago of about $980,000, or $245,000 per year.
The annualized increase to that $21.16 million budget of four years ago is therefore less than 1.2 percent.
According to Rakowski, the average annual growth in expenditures since the district’s 2017 unification is 2.17 percent, but because of declining enrollment, the estimated per-pupil spending increase is 8.73 percent.
And there is a proposed budget bump next year after decreases in two of the past three years created in part by staff cuts.
ANWSD officials cite three primary drivers behind that proposed spending increase of 4.89 percent:
• A 13-percent increase in the cost of the district’s transportation contract.
• An 11-percent increase in the cost of providing teachers’ health-insurance benefits.
• A yet-to-be determined boost in employee salaries. ANWSD is currently negotiating with both its teachers and support staff unions for new deals.
There could be some scrambling down the road depending on the outcome of those talks, according to ANWSD Superintendent Sheila Soule.
“We are uncertain what impact of the agreement will be on the FY20 budget,” Soule wrote in an email.
According to board materials handed out its January budget meeting, the budget includes staffing cuts: a Ferrisburgh Central School position due to declining enrollment, two full-time positions “through natural attrition,” a VUHS health teaching post reduced to 50 percent due to “consolidation of positions/dual certification,” and two part-time aides.
The board also reduced funds for employee health reimbursement accounts due to lower expected usage, lowered special education travel expenses and funding for after-school programming, and reduced contracted services with the Counseling Service of Addison County due to “declining need.”
On the other side of the ledger, the board added a district-wide elementary school health teacher and accounted for higher Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center tuition.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]
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