On March 3, 2021

Vt. revenue windfall benefits local school district taxpayers

By Curt Peterson

Thursday evening, Feb. 25, a Windsor Central Unified Union School District (WCUUSD) panel delivered a concise presentation via Zoom regarding the Financial Year 2022 district budget for the seven district towns.

The proposed FY22 budget totals $22,755,638.12, which is 2.96% more than the current FY21 budget.

The panel included Bryce Sammel (Barnard), board chair; Sherry Sousa, superintendent; Dan Fitzpatrick, finance director; Pamela Fraser (Barnard), board vice-chair; and Ben Ford (Woodstock), finance committee chair.

Ford announced good news for taxpayers — the state realized an unexpected windfall in tax revenue in 2020, enabling a significant reduction in the education tax rate for Vermont residents of about 5 cents. Some of the surprise revenue came from strong hospitality industry taxes and a 40% increase in property transfer tax revenue.

The net result is that the actual tax increase will be lower than the budget warned for Town Meeting Day.

The “raw” education tax rate throughout the district will be $1.6060.

Each town is assigned a Common Level of Appraisal (CLA) rate. According to the state tax department, the CLA “compares the ratio of the Grand List listed value to the sale price for all the arms-length sales in the town over the prior three-year period. If your assessments are low compared to actual market value, your tax rate is adjusted higher to compensate. If your town’s assessments are higher than actual market value, then your tax rate is adjusted lower, and parity is achieved.”

CLA application reduced tax rates in Reading (6.03%), Pomfret (5.05%), Bridgewater (1.28%), and Plymouth (0.78%) , but increased them in Woodstock (1.48%), Barnard (1.91%), and Killington (5.88%).

Ford said the pandemic has had a positive effect on real estate values in Killington and Woodstock as second-home buyers find Vermont an attractive and safe place to be when not at home. Towns that have more recently reassessed properties also fared better.

The FY22 budget increase is driven by three areas of expense, Ford said.

Salaries and benefits represent 70% of the budget — teachers’ compensation increases are contractual.

Superintendent Sousa told the Mountain Times there is no significant change in the number of employees contemplated for FY22.

Health benefits are negotiated in a state-wide contract over which the district has no control. The FY22 salaries and benefits increase is 9.8%, much less than expected but painful nonetheless, Ford explained.

The expense of rehabilitating The Prosper Valley School (TPVS), which has been closed since August 2018 due to moisture and non-toxic mold issues, is included in the FY21 (current) budget, but operating the school beginning in the fall is an expense for FY22.

Enrollment also significantly affects the district budget. The state department of education confirms the number of “equalized pupils” in each school district. The WCUUSD budget is divided by the number of equalized pupils to determine the district per-pupil cost of education. If the pupil cost is below or equal to a state-determined “threshold” per-pupil cost, the district avoids a penalty — for every dollar higher than that threshold, the district would have to return two dollars for every dollar it spends over the threshold to the state.

The proposed FY22 WCUUSD cost per pupil is $18,512.38, about $275 less than the threshold of $18,789 per pupil.

WCUUSD, like most disticts, intentionaly curbs its budgets in order to avoid the “threshold” penalty. An increase to 928 equalized students this year district-wide is part of what Ford called “a strong upward enrollment trend,” helped make that possible for FY22.

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