Local News

Hartland School Board explains budget before vote, April 2

By Curt Peterson

Every Hartlander should know they will have a chance to vote on the revised school budget on Tuesday, April 2. Absentee voting is available now.

The Hartland School District serves the children of Hartland, Vermont by operating a K-8 school in town and tuitioning students in grades 9-12 to the high school of their choice. 

The original board-approved budget of $11,541,199 was rescinded prior to Town Meeting in order to recalculate based on changes in education law that impacted tax rates. The revised budget that will be voted on Tuesday is $11,040,567, reduced by approximately $500,000.

Managing the district budget is difficult because of unfunded mandates imposed on schools, such as free universal meals, increased mental health and special education services, expanded physical ed programs, etc. And the lack of state financial support for maintenance and/or construction of buildings. Federal ESSER funds used to pay two necessary teachers has now expired, so their compensation has to come from the budget now.

The impetus for the budget kerfuffle is part of what’s been called, “the FY25 property tax crisis,” since 85% of tax bills are “education tax.” Due to Act 127 and the new weight of students applied to the complicated formula, Hartland’s basic homestead tax rate increased by 1.44 – adding 44% to the rate before the Common Level of Appraisal (CLA) is added in. Property owners are looking at a rate of $2.3504 per $100 of value.

The net tax increase is about 29%, which has Hartlanders reeling. Homestead property taxes on a modest home current assessed at $200,000 would increase by more than $1,200 a year.

The CLA is the difference between the Grand List property value, and what the state has determined is the property’s market value. The town had a reappraisal in 2019, but the market value has dramatically increased over just five years.

The tax increase “is causing people to question their ability to continue to live in Hartland,” school district board chair Nicki Buck said.

July is the deadline for the Legislature to provide relief before the next tax bill arrives. Local state representatives Elizabeth Burrows and John Bartholomew told The Mountain Times every legislator is both aware of the crisis, and working to find a solution, which may require changing the education funding scheme.

Taxpayer pressure is credited with inspiring a sense of urgency in Montpelier.

“This isn’t just a Hartland problem,” Buck said, “80% of the state has the same problem. Thirty school district budgets were voted down. If those districts cut their budgets significantly, it may affect the ed fund pool and take a little pressure of Hartland’s rate.”

Angry taxpayers have suggested voting down the revised budget “to send a message to Montpelier.” But Buck pointed out the only people getting that message will be the hard-working teachers and staff at the school. It would have no increaswd effect on the legislators.

“The best thing we can all do is approve the budget on Tuesday,” Buck said.

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