South Burlington Superintendent David Young and Business Manager Amadee Denton presented a budget the board unanimously approved Jan. 16.
After months of work by the school district administration and with the input of the board and the citizens’ budget advisory group, the administration’s recommended FY 2020 budget, which comes in at $51,746,533, represents a 3.36 percent estimated tax increase over FY 19 and a 4.15 percent increase in total expenditures.
The district only has a portion of the total tax rate under its control. Other factors contribute to the 3.36 percent tax rate. One, district proposed expenditures are up 4.15 percent and estimated revenues of $11,304,240 are down 6.19 percent.
Equalized pupils are a way of computing the number of pupils in schools across the state in a consistent fashion using a weighted system. The board reported that South Burlington’s equalized pupils are up 0.94 percent at 2,536.46, but this number is subject to change. The Homestead property tax yield is up 4.36 percent at $10,666. Finally, the Common Level of Appraisal, set by the state, is down by 1.23 percent to 93.28 percent.
Education spending per equalized pupil is used to set tax rates for each of the districts in the state. This version of per pupil costs divides ‘net’ education spending by the number of equalized pupils in a district, which is a statistic for resident pupils - incoming tuition students are not counted - with various ‘weights’ applied to recognize intensity of need of students.
The Common Level of Appraisal means that the list of all real property in the city and the city’s assessed value of that property, is valued at 93.28 percent of the current fair market value. The CLA is an average percentage of the differences between property assessments and what those properties actually sell for. In calculating the health of a municipality’s Grand List, the closer to 100 percent or more of the current market value the property is, the more accurate the assessed value is. By law, a common level of appraisal under 80 percent will trigger a required reappraisal.
Because Vermont education system is funded primarily though property taxes, the CLA, the number of equalized pupils, and a district’s per equalized per pupil spending are all factors used to calculate a municipality’s annual educational property tax rate.
What does this mean for your taxes? The impact per $100,000 of assessed value on the residential tax rate, factoring in the Common Level of Appraisel but prior to considering income sensitivity, would be an increase of $52. The average condo, valued at $231,356 would see a tax increase of $120 and the average home valued at $336,110, would see an increase of $175.
Several district administrators attended the Jan. 16 board meeting to add their input and show their support for the proposed budget, but Orchard School Principal Mark Trifilio wanted to make clear to the community that the budget doesn’t include any “new bells and whistles. It is contingent on the systems we have in place.”
Indeed, of the 4.15 percent overall increase in expenditures, only a fraction pertains to additions in staffing. These include three full-time staff for the new proposed EEE program at Central School, an addition of five full-time equivalent special educators at the elementary level (and a reduction of 9 FTE paraeducators), .5 FTE guidance support at the high school, one FTE security person for the district, a .73 FTE to support the Office of Operations/Finance, and a .12 FTE assistant student mentor coordinator. The remaining drivers of the expenditures include benefit increases and salary contingencies to three collective bargaining groups. There are also, continuing service expenses such as existing tuition agreements and lease payment obligations, contracts with vendors for current services, the 2019 bond principal payment, and a vocational tuition expense increase.
The district also saw a revenue reduction of $746,154 or 6.19 percent due to several factors. One is due to Act 85, the healthcare recapture that resulted in a $468,817 loss of revenue over two fiscal years. A change in state reimbursement thresholds for special education also resulted in a $237,349 loss. In addition, a correction of the prior year’s anticipated revenue resulted in a $190,000 reduction.
Young noted that the loss of revenue and the mandated safety and security add to budget development challenges. Initially, Young had put three security officers in the budget, but ultimately had to reduce to one additional full-time officer as he received guidance to keep the tax rate increase under 4 percent.
Also, board member Bridget Burkhardt wondered if fellow board members felt comfortable with the lack of funding for a contingency teacher. In past budgets, the board has included $100,000 to cover an extra teacher should enrollment and class size prove to be an issue at the beginning of the school year. Historically, the district has needed to utilize this resource. As an exercise, the board added the $100,000 to their budget worksheet (the active document which shows adjustments to the tax rate based on fluctuating factors such as board-initiated adjustments or changes to equalized pupil counts). Adding this amount would have bumped the tax rate increase from 3.36 percent to 3.61 percent. It was decided the budget would remain at its recommended level.
Fitzgerald said she continued to have concerns around the number of FTEs, but this year, the message around the budget should be that the board and administration have done their due diligence. She said if they had made further cuts to the budget, it is likely that programming would have been the line item impacted by those reductions.
Next up, the board and administration will work on communicating the budget and explaining its objectives to staff, parents/guardians at PTO meetings, and to the public. Superintendent David Young and Board Chair Elizabeth Fitzgerald will present the budget and answer questions live on Channel 17 next month. On March 4, the day before Town Meeting voting on March 5, there will be a final opportunity to ask questions and glean information about the budget at the Tuttle Middle School Cafeteria. In the meantime, go to www.sbschools.net for more information.