No one from the public came to the Montpelier Roxbury Public School Board’s third public hearing about it’s proposed school budget last week. The budget increased spending 4.5% from last year, but the property tax impact is minimal, with a slight dip in the Montpelier rate and an increase in the Roxbury rate.
If approved on Town Meeting Day, March 1, 2022, the school budget decreases the Montpelier property tax rate 1.5% (down 2.7 cents per $100 of assessed property value, or $55 on a home valued at $200,000), according to a school district presentation. Conversely, it increases Roxbury’s tax rate 2.3% (3.3 cents, or $67 on a home valued at $200,000).
The budget has increased $1,165,237, from $26,033,584 last year to $27,198,821. However, revenues have increased at exactly the same rate as spending, according to the school board presentation, which was discussed at the Jan. 5 budget hearing.
Some factors in the increased spending are a nearly 10% increase in spending on co-curriculars and athletics; an 11.43% increase in student support in the form of an added guidance counselor at Union Elementary School; plus a social worker resulting from “high levels of psych evals and risk assessments,” according to the presentation. Central Vermont Career Center tuition also increased 9.2%.
The budget adds four staff positions using $336,113 in federal grants in order to address staffing shortages and student learning support. Federal “ESSER” funds offset the expense of two interventionists, one alternative programming teacher, and a board-certified behavior analyst would increase tax rates if the positions were kept once federal funds run out. The next board meeting is scheduled for Jan. 19.
Federal funds allow the school board to add needed resources, such as staffing, learning, and infrastructure support, without significant tax rate changes. The school board has held three budget meetings. The budget will be finalized in mid-January.
In total, the district expects to receive $2,230,394 in federal elementary and secondary school emergency relief and American Rescue Plan funds.
The school board’s initial budget draft proposed that six critical positions be created with the non-tax revenue sources. However, in the most recent report, the number of federally funded staff positions dropped. The community liaison position will no longer be ESSER-funded and is now being reconsidered as a permanent position funded by “local funds” sourced from property taxes, rather than the one-time influx of federal funds.
Grant Geislar, business manager for the district, said: “Non-tax revenues lower our education spending, which, in turn, lowers the tax rate. Non-tax revenues allow us to add requirements into the budget without increasing the tax rate. That being said, we have to consider how we can either sustain or remove those requirements in future years, since ESSER funds aren’t permanent.”
“We always look toward the future to manage tax rates as best we can,” Geislar added. “In future years, we may realign positions based on priorities, or other factors may allow us to maintain the positions without impacting the tax rate. For example, FY23 is the final year we have to absorb a reduction in our merger incentive. For the past four years we’ve had to absorb a 0.02-cent reduction in our merger incentive, which equates to about $250,000. In FY24, we won’t have to absorb that impact.”
The school board is still considering how to spend federal ESSER funds and has invited the school community to comment via a public survey. The district refers to this as its “Thought Exchange.” Comments not only reflect interest in student support, but also in green energy investment and net-zero goals that align with Montpelier’s 2030 plan to go carbon neutral.
One survey comment said “I was expecting to see more specific information about how planning to adopt a net zero/carbon neutral goal for its buildings. The city of Montpelier has adopted a net-zero goal for all municipal buildings by 2030 and the school district should align with the city’s goal.”
At the Dec. 15 school board meeting, three members of Montpelier High School’s Earth Group requested the board use federal funding to support work toward net-zero energy goals. The members of Earth Group spoke at the public comment session to express that these district-wide goals relate directly to student health and wellbeing.
Superintendent Libby Bonesteel said, “The district is being significantly taxed by the current surge of COVID and we are prioritizing stabilizing this situation first.”