Education News

Majority of school budgets approved

ADDISON COUNTY — Residents in the Addison Central, Mount Abraham Unified and Addison Northwest school districts on Tuesday all strongly supported spending plans for the 2022-2023 academic year.

But at the same time, the Otter Valley Unified Union School District budget was defeated, 522-462, by voters in the Brandon area. The district’s proposed budget presented a 7.8% jump in spending to $22,710,955 with per-pupil spending increasing by 9.72%.

Taxes throughout OVUUSD district towns, however, were not expected to rise nearly as much, with Brandon’s taxes rising only 1.69% compared to the prior year, for example.

School officials were surprised because very little public comment against the budget had been noticeable ahead of the Town Meeting Day vote.

One possible reason for the OVUUSD defeat was low voter turnout, because ballots were not mailed out, according to RNESU Superintendent Jeanne Collins.

“It is unfortunate in the Otter Valley budget that the two larger towns (Brandon and Pittsford) voted to mail municipal ballots, but the school district could not unless all six towns agreed to. Thus, voter turnout was very low.”

Votes in Brandon for the selectboard race, for example, yielded a total of 877 votes, while the total vote for the OVUUSD budget — among all six towns — was only 984.

Collins said voter turnout for the school budget question was less than 30% of last year’s turnout. She said the OVUUSD board reorganizes on March 16 and will discuss next steps then.

And residents in OVUUSD towns — which also include Whiting, Leicester and Goshen — were not the only Addison County towns that will have to revote their school budget. The Slate Valley Unified Union School District, which serves Orwell, is also dealing with a failed budget proposal. Residents in the six-town Fair Haven-area district narrowly defeated the $26,270,047 spending plan, 861 to 852.

Slate Valley Superintendent Brooke Olsen-Farrell was trying to figure out the reason for the outcome on Wednesday morning. She noted that the spending plan included significant tax decreases for each of the six towns, and that the spending number was less than it was three years ago.

SOME BUDGETS PASS

Budgets solely within Addison County experienced no such issues:

In ACSD the vote in favor of a $41,578,089 spending plan ran 1,805-630, or 74-26%.

MAUSD residents backed a $32,665,311 budget by 1,409-778, or 64-36%.

Support for the ANWSD $22,327,585 spending proposal ran 902-495, or 64-36%.

Voters in each school district also supported capital funds and, in the case of ANWSD, an improvement project.

Most towns in all three districts are projected to see lower or comparable school tax bills based on budgets approved on Tuesday, according to estimates released before voting.

But officials in each district cautioned 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, they remain confident in their estimates based on the latest information from lawmakers and the Agency of Education and Department of Taxation, particularly because of a $90 million surplus in the Vermont Education Fund, at least a good portion of which the Legislature is expected to use to help control property taxes.

The ACSD and ANWSD boards also applied some of the fund balances from the 2020-2021 fiscal year to help offset the effects of rising salaries and health care costs and the lost revenue from declining enrollment. Officials caution the coming years could be financially challenging.

In ACSD, only two of seven town are expected to 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.

ACSD

The ACSD board’s 2022-23 budget of $41,578,089 will increase spending by about $1.22 million from the current fiscal year, or by roughly 3%.

With the student count projected to be stable, major budget drivers are rising health insurance premiums and contracted raises for teachers and staff, while the district also expects less revenue from tuition and special education reimbursements.

ACSD residents backed a plan to put roughly $2.3 million of its fund balance into the district’s Capital Reserve Fund. The board applied $550,000 of that fund balance to offset taxes.

ACSD officials are projecting homestead property tax rates to rise in Middlebury and Ripton by a cent. They anticipate homestead rates to decline by 2 or 3 cents in Cornwall and Shoreham, and to drop 8-10 cents in Bridport, Salisbury and Weybridge.

MAUSD

MAUSD voters on Town Meeting Day backed 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 for hiring 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. Officials said additional support for teachers is also built into the budget.

Voters on Tuesday also approved using the fund balance to put $870,000 in the district’s Capital Reserve Fund, 1,686-463; and $549,316 in its Educational Reserve Fund, 1,706-448.

According to the district estimates:

  • Bristol would see a 1.07-cent decrease in its FY23 tax rate.
  • Lincoln, 0.33-cent increase.
  • Monkton, 0.24-cent decrease.
  • New Haven, 2.37-cent decrease.
  • Starksboro, 10.49-cent increase. Starksboro has the lowest Common Level of Appraisal in the district, officials said.

ANWSD

The ANWSD budget of $22,327,585 backed by voters will increase spending by 3.35%.

The budget keeps all existing programs and adds a number of paraeducators 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.

Residents also backed 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. The margin was 1,007-386.

Despite the proposed higher spending, property taxes will drop in all five ANWSD communities by a range of between about 1.7 and 7 cents, according to the latest estimates.

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