Education News

School budgets easier on taxpayers

ADDISON COUNTY — Homeowners in almost all the Addison Central, Mount Abraham Unified and Addison Northwest union school districts are projected to see lower or comparable school tax bills if district school budgets are approved on Tuesday, according to district estimates.

But officials in each district caution decisions made by state agencies and lawmakers between March 1 and the end of the current session of the Legislature could still move the needle.

Still, all are also confident in their estimates based on the latest information from lawmakers and the Agency of Education and Department of Taxation.

In ACSD, only two of seven towns are expected to as see homestead tax increases, Middlebury and Ripton, and those by only around a penny. Two ACSD towns’ rates could drop by about 10 cents.

In MAUSD, three towns are expected to have essentially stable rates, while New Haven’s could slide by more than 2 cents. Starksboro is the outlier in MAUSD and county-wide, with a low Common Level of Appraisal number pushing the town’s estimated homestead rate up by almost 11 cents.

In ANWSD, homestead rates are projected to drop across the board in its five communities by a range of 2 to 7 cents.

A major factor in the districts’ lower expected homestead rates is a projected $90 million surplus in the Vermont Education Fund. State officials will be using some of that surplus to move statewide school tax and yield rates that in turn affect how much property owners are asked to pay.

The ACSD and ANWSD boards also chose to apply portions of their own fund balances, or surpluses, from the 2020-2021 school year to offset tax rates.

Officials point out that declining enrollment and rising health care costs remain, and that COVID-related surpluses that are helping control tax rates now are temporary. They expect pressure on tax rates to resume during the coming years.

ADDISON CENTRAL

The ACSD board is presenting voters with a 2022-23 budget of $41,578,089, which if approved would increase spending by about $1.22 million from the current fiscal year, or by roughly 3%.

The ACSD is projecting the same number of students next year as it has this year — 1,661 in preK-12 from Bridport, Cornwall, Middlebury, Ripton, Salisbury, Shoreham and Weybridge.

Major budget drivers are rising health insurance premiums and contracted raises for teachers and staff, while the district expects less revenue from tuition and special education reimbursements.

ACSD residents are also being asked to support the board’s proposal to put roughly $2.3 of its fund balance from the 2020-2021 fiscal year into the district’s Capital Reserve Fund.

The board will ask voters to apply $550,000 of the fund balance to offset taxes.

Estimates call for a district-wide tax rate of $1.55 that would represent a 9-cent drop from this year.

But that rate doesn’t figure in Common Level of Appraisal (CLA) adjustments for each of the seven towns. The state calculates a CLA annually for each town to adjust the assessed value of properties to reflect fair market value as closely as possible.

But even with CLAs pressuring tax rates higher, the news is generally good for ACSD homeowners, assuming the estimates hold.

ACSD officials are projecting homestead property tax rates to rise in Middlebury and Ripton, but only by a cent in those towns.

They anticipate homestead rates to decline by 2 or 3 cents in Cornwall and Shoreham, and homestead rates in Bridport, Salisbury and Weybridge to drop by between 8 and 10 cents.

MOUNT ABE DISTRICT

MAUSD voters on Town Meeting Day will weigh in on a $32,665,311 budget that would increase spending by 2.87% over the current year.

MAUSD officials said the spending plan includes $500,000 to hore new staff to support the needs of the district’s roughly 1,443 equalized pupils. Student behavior and needs became district-wide issues in the current school year.

Among the additions will be 13 behavioral assistants; one interventionist, three coaches and one coordinator focused on social and emotional learning; the equivalent of 5.1 fulltime school-based clinicians and two school psychologists; two more social workers; 8.2 counselors; and 1.2 “mentor counselors.”

Officials said additional support for teachers is also built into the budget.

Voters on Town Meeting Day will also be asked to approve two uses for an anticipated fund balance: $870,000 to be added to the district’s Capital Reserve Fund and $549,316 to be added to its Educational Reserve Fund. The board opted not to put any of the surplus toward lowering property taxes.

District officials are expecting the district-wide tax rate to plummet by about 10.5 cents, to $1.5325.

But the five district towns’ CLA are out of date, according to district officials, enough so that that lower rate will be mostly offset.

According to the district estimates:

  • Bristol would see a 1.07-cent decrease in its FY23 tax rate, or a decrease of $10.70 per $100,000 of assessed value (all such estimates assume taxpayers pay on the full value of their homes, not based on their incomes).
  • Lincoln would see a 0.33-cent increase, amounting to an additional $3.30 per $100,000.
  • Monkton would see a 0.24-cent decrease, or $2.40 less per $100,000.
  • New Haven would see the biggest decrease: 2.37 cents, or $23.70 less per $100,000.
  • Starksboro would see the largest increase: 10.49 cents, or an additional $104.90 per $100,000. Starksboro has the lowest CLA in the district, officials said.

ADDISON NORTHWEST

The Addison Northwest School District Board is proposing a $22,327,585 spending plan that would increase spending by 3.35% over the current level.

The budget proposal keeps all existing programs, according to district officials, and adds a number of para-educators at all three district schools, plus two Vergennes Union High School employees, a psychologist and a new member of the school’s Response Resource Center, which works with students with disciplinary and other issues.

The board also voted to ask residents to back using $1.5 million of the district’s $1.86 million audit-confirmed surplus for repairs and upgrades at Vergennes Union elementary and high schools.

Officials said work will include replacing rotting windows at VUHS and the VUES gym roof; HVAC systems upgrades; work on the VUES boiler and the foundation of the boiler room, including adding an exterior door; bathroom upgrades at VUES; science lab upgrades at VUHS; and new asphalt and roof repair at VUHS.

The board is also asking voters in a separate article for permission to use $337,763 of the surplus to help keep district taxes in check, and voted to place the remaining surplus balance — $28,935 — into the ANWSD Education Stabilization Fund. Voters have pre-approved the board to put a small amount annually into that rainy day fund.

Despite the proposed higher spending, according to the latest estimates, property taxes would drop in all five ANWSD communities by a range of about 1.7 and 7 cents, if voters support the budget on March 1.

The board has scheduled a hybrid online/in-person informational meeting for Feb. 28 at 6 p.m. at the VUHS library.

The ANWSD homestead tax rate estimates are as follows, with every penny equaling $10 per $100,000 of assessed value for homeowners paying on the full value of their property:

  • In Addison, a decrease of about 2 cents, from $1.6929 to $1.6722.
  • In Ferrisburgh, a decrease of about 5 cents, from $1.7047 to $1.6539.
  • In Panton, a decrease of about 7.2 cents, from $1.7219 to $1.6495.
  • In Vergennes, a decrease of about 1.68 cents, from $1.8220 to $1.8052
  • In Waltham, a decrease of almost 5.3 cents, from $1.7257 to $1.6731.

RNESU AND SVUUSD

Voters in Brandon, Leicester, Whiting, Goshen and Sudbury will also weigh in on a proposed Otter Valley Unified Union School District spending plan of $22,710,955, which would result in education spending of $17,048 per equalized pupil — 9.72% higher than spending for the current year.

While spending is up, because the State Tax Yield increased the anticipated Homestead Tax before applying CLA is $1.318, or down 55 cents, or 4.02%. What that means is that tax rates will be down compared to the previous year in several district towns, while kept significantly lower than the budget increases in all towns.

After the CLA is factored in, the school district estimated the following impact of the school budget on district taxes:

  • Brandon will see an increase of about $20 per $100,000 home site.
  • Goshen, $50 increase per $100,000 home value.
  • Leicester, $0 increase, or no change.
  • Whiting, an increase of $90 per $100,000 home value.

Orwell voters will decide whether to back a Slate Valley Unified Union School District spending proposal of $26,270,047, which is about $10,000 less than the figure approved last year. The projected spending per equalized pupil, however, would inch up by $500 to $16,983.

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