Featured, Local News

Windsor Central passes $24.3 million school budget

By Curt Peterson

Near the end of a 2 -hour meeting Monday, Jan. 3, the Windsor Central Unified Union School District board passed a proposed $24.3 million budget for fiscal year 2023, reflecting 6.5% increase over last year’s budget. Two dissenting votes were cast by Bill Overbay (Pomfret) and Gwen Hagenbarth (Killington).

Based on the proposed budget, the pre-CLA adjustment tax rate for FY 2023 will be $1.5125 per $1,000 appraised value, a decrease of $.11 from the previous year.

Investment in compensation and benefits for additional staff includes one part-time paraeducator at Woodstock Elementary ($39,000), a full-time world language instructor ($80,000), a full-time librarian ($80,000), a high-school international relations consultant ($40,000) and a part-time grant writer $75,000).

Finance committee chair Ben Ford (Woodstock) said the board traditionally forecasts about a 6% increase year-to-year.

The proposed budget relies on an unexpected windfall —a $350,000 surplus revealed in the audit of fiscal year 2021 books.

There are also necessary assumptions that all Vermont district boards have to contemplate when creating their budgets.

The equalized pupil spending threshold, which reflects enrollment numbers set by the state, usually determines any per-student spending penalty. (For every dollar invested above the threshold, a district has to return two dollars to the state.) However, because of the pandemic, the per-student spending threshold penalty has been suspended through FY2023.

Additionally, WCUUSD has enjoyed a 5% increase in enrollment, which should work in its favor when the three-year average is calculated — the more students, the lower the budgeted cost per pupil.

The approved budget proposal yields a 2.5% per-student investment over the threshold, which, Ford said, will probably be $19,258 per student.

There is also an expected healthcare insurance cost increase, estimated at 5%, which will be realized as it develops. James Fenn, the district business manager, said several teachers who had previously opted out to favor spouses’ coverage have joined the district insurance plan during the pandemic – possibly because the alternative was no longer available.

The state education fund also has an unexpected surplus of $90 million. There is a proposal to return 50% of the windfall to districts. According to Ford, this could result in a 5-cent reduction in effective tax rates in the district.

Common Level of Appraisal adjustment (CLA) is a way the state seeks parity among towns relative to the property values on which taxes are based. For municipal taxes, this is irrelevant, but for state education taxes, the CLA is applied to each town’s grand list of property values — adjusting up or down reflecting how listed values relate to actual market value as determined by recent sales.

Most of the towns in the WCUUSD district remained relatively stable — their CLA adjustments were minor following recent reappraisals. Barnard’s CLA was a modest downward adjustment. Killington, where property sales and prices have soared during the pandemic, saw an almost 14% (89% to 75.7%) change in CLA, meaning the grand list value was about 14% less than the actual sales price paid during the measured period.

“Depending on what the state does with the $90 million surplus, that rate can only go down,” Jim Haff (Killington) told the Mountain Times.

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