Education News

Mt. Abe’s spending plan falls 228 votes short

BRISTOL — Voters in the Mount Abraham Unified School District on Town Meeting Day narrowly defeated the proposed district budget for the 2024-2025 academic year and opposed by a much larger margin the purchase of the building that houses the district’s central office. 

Residents of the MAUSD-member towns of Bristol, Monkton, New Haven and Starksboro shot down the $37,014,566 spending plan by 228 votes — 1,341 to 1,113. 

Despite reflecting a 1.35% decrease in spending per pupil, the proposed budget for fiscal year 2025 would have increased total spending in the district by $3,145,666, or 9.29% over the current year. 

District officials estimated that MAUSD’s homestead tax rate for FY’25 would increase by 4.65 cents, or 3.1%, from $1.4991 to $1.5456.

Low Common Level of Appraisals (CLAs) were expected to further drive up the tax rate for MAUSD residents who pay education taxes based on the value of their home in each of district’s member towns, except Starksboro, with homestead school tax rate increases ranging from 24 cents in New Haven to 29 cents in Bristol.

Starksboro residents that pay education taxes based on the value of their home were expected to see a decrease in the school tax rate of around 40.11 cents, as the town is undergoing a town-wide reappraisal, which is expected to be finished by July 1 and bring the town’s CLA closer to 100.

Superintendent Patrick Reen and other district officials have noted MAUSD faces challenges in reducing anticipated tax hikes, as avoiding an increase in the homestead school tax rate before CLAs are applied would require major spending cuts and the resulting rate would still be pushed higher by low CLAs. Reen in January estimated the district would need to cut upwards of $2 million from the FY’25 budget to have a noticeable impact on anticipated tax rate increases.

“While I am disappointed the budget did not pass I can understand where our community is coming from.  Even though it was a level service budget the tax impact we anticipated was much higher than our communities are accustomed to and it comes at a time when it feels like everything is unaffordable,” Reen told the Independent on Wednesday. 

“Unfortunately, it also comes at a time when student needs remain high, school facilities are in need of repair and school budgets continue to take on more and more responsibility from feeding students under the universal meals program to meeting their mental health needs,” he continued. “These challenges, combined with a strong message from our communities that there is little interest in school consolidation or district merger, makes finding a path forward that reduces spending while improving outcomes for students a daunting task. Albeit, a task I remain up for.” 

The superintendent said next steps include working with the school board to set a new budget target and creating a spending plan that voters can support. 

CENTRAL OFFICE VOTE 

Districts voters on Town Meeting Day also overwhelming voted ‘no’ on the proposed purchase of the BristolWorks building that houses MAUSD’s central office. Voters rejected the purchase, 1,615-820. 

Article 9 on the district ballot asked voters whether MAUSD should buy the building for $1.23 million. The purchase would have included the 10,324-square-foot building, located at 72 Munsill Ave. in Bristol, plus the parking lot and related improvements. Money for the purchase was to come from the capital construction funds already built into the district’s operating budget. 

MAUSD officials spent several months exploring options for the future of the central office location, as the district’s lease ends in September 2025 and the landlord is looking to sell the BristolWorks property.

The district’s explorations have included looking for a new space to rent, refitting space in one of the district’s school buildings, and purchasing the BristolWorks property. District officials ultimately determined that purchasing the building was the least costly of the options identified.

Other cited benefits of the option included positive annual cashflow from renting out other spaces included in the property and the ability to add space without displacing MAUSD students, staff and programs. 

In the weeks leading up to Town Meeting Day, several district voters took to Front Porch Forum to voice their opposition to the proposed building purchase. Some suggested using current space available in the district’s elementary and middle/high school buildings, while others recommended spending the $1.23 million to support district educators and students. 

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