ACSD continues to refine FY22 budget
MIDDLEBURY — The latest 2021-2022 budget draft for Addison Central School District calls for $40.3 million in spending — less than a 1% boost compared to this year — but would require homestead education property tax rate hikes ranging from 11 cents per $100 in property value in Shoreham to 25 cents in Salisbury, according to district officials.
The board is likely to use surplus funds to soften the impact of the budget on local property tax rates.
Board members continue to debate exactly how much of the district’s $1,173,744 fund balance (unaudited) from fiscal year 2020 it should use. Judging from board members’ comments at their Jan. 4 meeting, it could be as much as $535,406; that’s how much the proposed budget exceeds the state’s threshold for spending per equalized pupil. Under Act 68, a district with an education spending amount per equalized pupil that is greater than the excess spending threshold incurs a double-tax for the amount over the limit.
A major reason for the ACSD exceeding the state’s spending threshold is that the state is demanding districts limit themselves to a 0.18% increase in equalized per-pupil spending for fiscal year 2022. The state has customarily allowed school districts annual increases of 2-2.5% in per-pupil spending, ACSD Business Manager Brittany Gilman noted.
The ACSD has the financial wherewithal to eliminate the $535,406 budget problem for next year. The trouble is that problem will simply reappear for FY2023 because of the use of the one-time funds to plug the hole.
Still, Superintendent Peter Burrows advised the board to use the “surplus solution” this year.
“While we’ve been very clear about not creating a funding ‘cliff’ that we can’t fill, given where we are this year, it seems prudent for us to put the $500,000 of the unaudited balance toward the budget to bring it below the threshold this year,” he told the board at its Monday gathering.
“Given where we are with our current reserve funds, I feel it’s safe for us to do that and not put ourselves into a precarious financial position going into fiscal year 2023.”
Board member James “Chip” Malcolm agreed.
“If we’re going to be double-charged taxes, I don’t see how we can avoid putting some (surplus funds) toward this,” Malcolm said.
Board member Peter Conlon also represents the Addison-2 district on the Vermont House Education Committee. He promised to advocate for school districts, like ACSD, that are struggling with surging education taxes in spite of slim spending increases.
The overall education tax rate increase for the district is being predicted at roughly 12 cents. Three cents of that increase, according to Gilman, is associated with exceeding the state’s spending threshold per equalized pupil.
The school budget’s impacts on local education property tax rates will fluctuate based on each of the seven towns’ Common Level of Appraisal (CLA) — a formula that adjusts the assessed value of property to bring it in line with fair market value.
ACSD towns — like Middlebury — that have recently conducted property reappraisals have CLAs at, or close to, 100%, which can mitigate their education property tax rates. Towns with lower CLAs, however, can see their education tax rates increase — in some cases sharply. For example, Salisbury’s CLA is currently at 87.88%. Thus its education property tax rate based on the ACSD budget proposal is pegged to rise by 25 cents.
What follows are the CLAs and estimated homestead education property tax rates for all seven ACSD towns, based on the latest preK-12 budget draft. Again, these rates will change based on how much fund balance the school board elects to apply to the budget.
• Bridport: A CLA of 92.12%, ed tax rate of $1.95, a 20-cent bump compared to this year.
• Cornwall: A CLA of 93.59%, ed tax rate of $1.92, a 20-cent bump.
• Middlebury: A CLA of 100%, ed tax rate of $1.80, a 17-cent bump.
• Ripton: A CLA of 89.78%, ed tax rate of $2, a 13-cent bump.
• Salisbury: A CLA of 87.88%, ed tax rate of $2.05, a 25-cent bump.
• Shoreham: A CLA of 98.3%, ed tax rate of $1.83, an 11-cent bump.
• Weybridge: A CLA of 96.62%, ed tax rate of $1.88, a 12-cent bump.
Vermonters pay their education taxes based on either the value of their homestead (house and 2 acres); their household income; or a combination of the two. So for a Bridport taxpayer, the financial impact of the ACSD budget would be a $600 tax increase for a $300,000 home, or $234.93 for a household earning $80,000 annually. That $234.93 bump would be standard for all ACSD residents paying their school taxes at the $80,000 annual income level, according to Gilman, who noted 60-70% of Vermonters pay their school taxes in that manner.
For those paying based on $300,000 in assessed property value, the budget would add $600 to the bill of a Cornwall home, $510 in Middlebury, $390 in Ripton, $750 in Salisbury, $330 in Shoreham, and $360 in Weybridge.
The proposed ACSD preK-12 budget reflects, among other things:
• A Middlebury Union Middle School that, for the first time, will include the district’s 6th-graders. The seven elementary schools will serve grades preK-5.
• Elimination of seven teaching positions at the elementary level.
• Cutting seven elementary school support staff positions through attrition.
• A 9.8% increase in health insurance premiums.
• Contracted wage increases.
• Eliminating one secondary school support staff position through attrition, and adding 1.4 full-time equivalent licensed positions — also driven by the sixth-grade move to MUMS.
• A 15% bump ($138,777) in transportation services.
• A 47% ($156,992) decrease in debt service. Mary Hogan and Shoreham elementary schools both retired bonds this year. This is consequential, because a district’s debt is exempt from its per-pupil expenditure calculations.
The ACSD in recent years has been able to save money by reducing teaching positions through attrition, thanks largely to retirements. And the district has coaxed some to leave sooner than they otherwise might, through an early retirement incentive program.
Still, district officials said there’s still hope for the ACSD to pare down its staff in a manner that won’t necessitate seven pink slips for teachers. These cuts are slated to be made according to district-wide seniority.
“The picture might look quite different in April than it looks right now,” Burrows said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
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