Six ACSU towns brace for education tax hits
MIDDLEBURY — Dwindling student numbers, a boost in the statewide education property tax rate and a new requirement that school districts pay for their own paraprofessionals are among factors contributing to potentially large property tax increases associated with 2014-2015 budget proposals designed to maintain current programming at Addison Central Supervisory Union (ACSU) elementary schools.
Directors of ACSU elementary schools in Bridport, Cornwall, Ripton, Salisbury, Shoreham and Weybridge have drafted final budgets for the 2014-2015 academic year that call for spending increases ranging from 0.78 percent (Bridport) to 10.57 percent (Ripton). Local voters will decide those spending plans at either their annual meetings on March 3, or on Town Meeting Day (March 4).
Middlebury’s Mary Hogan Elementary School is also part of the ACSU, but its budget will not be decided until April. So ID-4 school directors have some more time to adjust a budget draft that, as of last week, called for $6,642,088, representing a 3.48-percent increase.
“I feel the boards have done a very good job showing strong leadership building their budgets,” said ACSU Superintendent Peter Burrows. “This year is a challenging year for budgeting. As we look ahead, we are seeing a lot of pressures from the state, and those pressures are not going to go away.”
Some of those challenges, according to Burrows:
• The Vermont Department of Education recently forecasted a 7-cent increase in the base, 94-cent statewide property tax rate for next year, pushing it to $1.01 per $100 in property value.
• Changes in the federal Title 1 program that provides financial assistance to school districts for the education of children from low-income families. One such chance will require districts to absorb costs for Title 1-related paraprofessionals, according to Burrows.
• Nuances of Vermont’s education funding law that will drive property taxes up at a higher percentage than budget hikes. Those factors include per-pupil spending, enrollment levels and the common level of appraisal (CLA). CLAs adjust the assessed value of property among towns to an estimated fair market value; a CLA of less than 100 percent, meaning a town’s property is undervalued by its assessments, drives its school tax rates higher.
• A new teachers’ contract that has yet to be negotiated for next school year. Officials are optimistic about an accord, and for now are budgeting for about a 3-percent increase in salaries.
Education spending throughout the seven ACSU districts is expected to go up by a combined total of 3.15 percent.
• Health insurance rates that are expected to rise by around 4.5 percent.
• All ACSU districts will be asked to absorb a portion of the recently created facilities manager position, an individual who will work with all of the schools to troubleshoot problems and plan capital projects.
Bridport Central School directors are proposing a 2014-2015 budget of $1,464,069, representing a 0.78-percent increase compared to this year. The town is being helped by the fact that its enrollment at the elementary level is projected to rise by four to 75 students next year.
Burrows said the Bridport budget does not contain any major new initiatives or increases. Even so, the budget might provide a little sticker shock for taxpayers.
Bridport’s CLA is expected to decline from the current 98.66 percent to 95.57 percent, contributed a little to what will be an increase in the town’s K-12 residential school tax rate of 13.64 percent to a total of $1.873 per $100 in property value.
The town’s share of UD-3 spending is a more significant driver of that school tax hike.
In all, if both the central school and the UD-3 budgets are approved in March, Bridport residents could be facing a $224.85 tax increase per $100,000 in property value, according to district figures.
Bingham Memorial School directors have crafted a proposed spending plan of $1,451,290, a 5.31-percent increase compared to this year. Like Bridport, Cornwall is anticipating a modest bump in student enrollment — perhaps two or more children for a total of around 79.
Cornwall’s budget doesn’t include major new initiatives, staff or programs.
Cornwall’s CLA has been on the rise and is expected to increase to 107.1 percent.
School officials are forecasting a local, K-12 homestead education property tax rate of $1.61 per $100 for Cornwall, which would represent a 7.69-hike, again with the UD-3 impact being felt.
ACSU Business Manager Laura Nassau noted Cornwall’s town meeting ballot will feature an additional item asking residents if they’d like to sell the old, vacant town schoolhouse on South Bingham Street. The property has been assessed locally at $22,600.
In all, assuming both the UD-3 and Bingham Memorial budgets are supported, Cornwall homeowners are looking at a $115.03 tax increase per $100,000 in property value, according to district figures.
Ripton Elementary School directors are proposing a 2014-2015 spending plan of $894,399, which would be a 10.57-percent increase compared to this year. Officials noted that part of the Ripton’s budget increase is due to debt service on its new roof and solar panel project.
Burrows explained that Ripton is expecting around three fewer local enrollees, for a projected total of 35. The drop in enrollment, the Title 1 changes and assessment for the new facilities manager position all conspired to help drive up the budget.
“(Three) is a big hit, when you are that small to begin with,” Burrows said.
Fortunately, Ripton is expecting seven tuition students next year. Those students, from various Route 100 communities, are expected to pour $119,000 into the schools’ coffers.
Ripton’s K-12 local homestead education property tax rate is expected to increase by 12.78 percent, to a total of $1.80 per $100 in property value.
Ripton school directors have added a separate article to the annual meeting warning asking voters if they’d like to apply $42,300 in savings from the roof/solar project to help stabilize school taxes.
The elementary and UD-3 budgets, if approved, are expected to drive a $204.92 tax increase per $100,000 in property value, according to district figures.
Salisbury voters will decide a 2014-2015 budget of $1,624,142, representing a 4.08-percent increase compared to the current year.
Salisbury Elementary will enjoy a roughly 6 percent boost in enrollment next year to an estimated 90, according to ACSU figures. The town’s CLA is expected to increase by 2.83 percent to a total of 97.61 percent, Burrows said.
Officials are projecting a K-12 local homestead education property tax rate of $1.73 for Salisbury, which would represent a 4.78-percent increase.
Salisbury’s annual school warning will feature three other articles. One seeks permission for the school to borrow, at no interest, $28,000 from Green Mountain Power’s Evergreen Fund to retrofit the school building with energy efficient lighting. Another article seeks use of up to $30,000 in school reserve funds for restroom renovations. The third article seeks to consolidate the school’s education reserve funds into a single account.
The elementary and UD-3 budgets are expected to drive a $78.98 tax increase per $100,000 in property value, according to district figures.
Local school directors are pitching a 2014-2015 budget of $1,497,832, which would be a 2.04 percent increase compared to this year.
Shoreham’s CLA is up 5.3 percent to a total of 105.86 percent.
Officials are anticipating a K-12 local homestead education property tax rate of $1.626, representing a 3.95-percent increase.
Burrows said there is not much remarkable about Shoreham’s budget aside from the addition of $9,500 for a new Internet service provider that will expand bandwidth.
Salisbury’s annual school meeting warning will also include some special items. Among them: The proposed borrowing of up to $18,000 in interest-free funds from GMP for an energy efficiency retrofit; consolidation of fund balance into a single education reserve account, and placing $20,000 in fund balance into the education reserve account.
The elementary and UD-3 budgets are expected to drive a $61.92 tax increase per $100,000 in property value, according to district figures.
Local voters at their town meeting will consider a Weybridge Elementary School budget of $1,042,710, which would mean a 9.31-percent increase in spending compared to this year.
Weybridge Elementary, already one of the ACSU’s smaller schools, is projected to see its enrollment drop by about 7 percent to a total of 41 kids next year, according to Burrows. Equalized per-pupil spending is estimated to rise by 25.5 percent, to $20,931, officials said.
Weybridge’s K-12 local homestead education property tax rate is expected to rise by 13.64 percent, to a total of $2.03.
The elementary and UD-3 budgets are expected to drive a $243.64 tax increase per $100,000 in property value, according to district figures.
Reporter John Flowers is at email@example.com.