by Kari Bradley, vice-chair of the board
The challenge of operating schools these days is encapsulated in the budgeting process. In these times of declining enrollment, rising property taxes and an ever-expanding list of expectations for our schools, achieving the proper balance between our educational responsibility to our students and our fiscal responsibility to our tax-paying community is complex work. The U-32 school board’s recommended budget for the 2015-16 school year reflects our work to achieve that balance.
The budget calls for a 0.55 percent expense increase over the current year. This will require reductions in several administrative, instructional and non-instructional support positions; however, we expect no reductions in course offerings or programming for our students. The budget includes an additional $98,000 for capital expenses, bringing us closer to a fully-funded capital fund consistent with our multi-year plan to sustain our facility and avoid deferred maintenance expenses in the future. Unfortunately, as a school we face two significant decreases in revenues next year: no support from our fund balance and a projected decline of 19 tuition students from neighboring towns. As a result, the total increase in tax rates from the proposed U-32 budget is 4.2 percent
To calculate the final tax rates, the U-32 budget is combined with each town’s elementary school budget, its common level of appraisal and the statewide education tax rate. As of this writing, the estimated local tax impact for each town is:
- Berlin- 9.2 cent increase (or $92 per $100,000 assessed property value)
- Calais- 16.3 cent increase ($163/$100,000)
- East Montpelier- 19.8 cent increase ($198/$100,000)
- Middlesex- 14.2 cent increase ($142/$100,000)
- Worcester- 1.7 cent decrease (-$17/$100,000)
You can find more detail in your town report or by visiting www.wcsuonline.org.
It is critical to recognize that for most of our towns the majority of the increase is due to the CLA and state tax rate, which are beyond our control. For this reason, the board does not feel that further reductions to school expenses are in the community’s best interest. In fact, to reduce the tax rate by a single penny (or $10 per $100,000) requires an expense reduction of approximately $144,000, an amount that would undoubtedly negatively impact school programming and what we can offer our students. To address this disconnect between school expenses and local tax rates will require action by our state government with respect to the current education financing system.
The board believes we have struck an appropriate balance between school quality and fiscal responsibility this year. We are asking for your support this March and ask that you urge others to approve the budget. We are, as always, grateful for our community’s ongoing commitment to maintain quality education for all of our students current and future.