Thursday January 04, 2018
As 2017 came to a close, the school board and district administration continued their budget development process for FY 2019. Superintendent David Young and Business Manager John Aubin presented a draft recommended budget at the December 19 board meeting. While the state’s definitive Common Level of Appraisal (CLA) or equalized pupil figures were not yet available, the district’s figures indicated that even with a local budget decrease of $98,000 from FY ‘18, the tax rate could go up by 3.23 percent; 3.22 percent of this figure due to state factors.
Vermont’s education funding works like a complex puzzle and a number of components contribute to what ultimately becomes the tax rate for any given year. The increase or decrease is not simply a matter of local budgetary control, but rather five elements that contribute to a final figure. The five components include proposed expenditures (down 0.13 percent), estimated revenues (down 0.43 percent), the yield set by the Vermont Agency of Education (down 3.13 percent), the equalized pupil count, and the CLA. While the administration’s draft budget worksheet indicated a decrease in the district’s budget from FY 2018 of $98,000, a potential tax increase could result due to fluctuations in the other categories. If this tax rate becomes what is recommended by the administration and ultimately approved by voters, the average condo owner would see a $118 annual tax increase and the average single family homeowner would see a $171 annual increase prior to income sensitivity, the statewide policy whereby one pays education taxes based upon income rather than the value of his/her property.
Notable items in the draft budget include a reduction of $573,524 from the new health plan implementation, the district’s electricity expense being reduced by $20,000 due to solar power generated by the array atop the capped landfill, and maintaining funding for safety and security items such as security cameras. The draft budget also includes an article regarding a $990,000 stewardship bond to pay for various capital upgrades, including $325,000 for a restroom facility at Munson Field. This item has been desired for a number of years by the district, the public, and those who rent the facility.
Also included in the stewardship bond is $150,000 to re-fit the high school library space since the city took a large collection of furniture and books when it vacated in November. The library rental revenue has also been reduced by $64,788, the amount the city previously paid the school for the use of the space.
The draft budget maintains educational and extracurricular opportunities students utilize today, but does not include any aspirational items the board usually starts with in their process. Bridget Burkhardt said she felt that this year, the district was coming at the budget from the opposite direction; focusing on what could be cut in order to engineer a number rather than considering initiatives that could use their focus. For example, there has not been any discussion regarding new items the board had wanted to include last year such as a communications coordinator, adding foreign language at the elementary level, and improvements to the central office.
Martin LaLonde agreed, adding that people should understand that there are still items the district needs and in this iteration of the budget they are being forfeited yet again. “We don’t want to degrade the product we are providing: education,” LaLonde said.
Alex McHenry wondered if the district was prepared for various voting day outcomes such as the budget being approved, but the bond being rejected. Young explained that if the bond wasn’t approved, the board could decide to either go to the voters again with a special vote or could simply live with the results and rely on a stop gap measure to resolve the absolutes in the stewardship plan. Should this scenario occur, the district would not be able to do all they need to do.
Former school board members Dan Fleming and Diane Bugbee who are serving on the citizens’ budget advisory group this year, said there is a challenge to building a budget when you don’t have vital pieces of information yet and said it’s not intuitive, seeing a budget decrease but a tax increase.
Fleming added that while he understood the reasoning behind bonding, he urged caution. “If you’re going to bond, the lifetime of improvements should exceed the bond life … you don’t want to end up paying for something you no longer have,” Fleming said.
At the January 3 meeting, which takes place after The Other Paper has gone to press, the district’s administration will present their recommended budget to the board and public. The board has requested an overview of opportunities identified last year to see if they are in or out of the budget and Steve Wisloski also thought it would be helpful to see a ten-year average of programs that have been added or dropped.
If you’d like to view a visual of how education funding in Vermont works, check out the video on the vtvsba.org homepage, “Making Sense of Vermont’s Education Funding System.”
SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent