The HUUSD School Board met in-person (with an option for remote participation) last Wednesday, January 12th at Harwood Union Middle/High School.
The Board heard from the Superintendent regarding the ever-changing Covid landscape at school, including current mitigation measures, case response and impact on students and staff.
Jody Emerson, Director of the Central Vermont Career Center, joined the meeting to answer questions about an item on the Town Meeting Day ballot that seeks to establish the Central Vermont Career Center School District.
The majority of the meeting was dedicated to a third review of the proposed budget for FY23 (the 2022-23 school year). This week’s meeting was the first time the Board was able to incorporate key numbers from the state like the CLA, revenue projections, and equalized pupil estimates. The following key points are likely to be of special interest to taxpayers:
1) The Board has been looking at a level-service budget – which considers what it would cost to provide the same services currently provided in the next fiscal year.
2) The state has indicated that the yield is expected to increase significantly, which will decrease property tax rates. The tax commissioner suggested an increase as high as 22% while the AOE has suggested districts use a more conservative estimate of 14%. Our Board has used the more conservative number, not wanting to promise savings that might not come to fruition.
3) The state also released its new Common Level of Appraisal (CLA) figures, which account for recent changes in local real estate markets that may not be reflected in a town’s current grand list. In this case, the recent rise in home values across our district will increase our local taxes – with Moretown, Waitsfield and Warren seeing the greatest change from last year.
4) In an effort to bolster the maintenance reserve fund, the Board voted to contribute all unspent funds from FY21 to the maintenance reserve. This total of $1,584,266 was largely due to reductions in programming caused by COVID and additional revenue from COVID-relief funds. The Board does not anticipate such a large surplus in future budgets.
5) Combining all of these factors, the level service budget the Board is expected to approve at next week’s meeting on January 26th would bring the total general education expenses for FY23 to $42,715,700 (an increase of 5.8% from FY22) and education spending to $35,178,064 (an increase of 6.5%). Because of the projected increase in the yield, however, this is expected to result in a new equalized tax rate for the district of $1.57 – a decrease of 5% from last year. However, the CLA will increase the towns’ local tax rates an average of 1.4% (ranging from a decrease of 2% in Fayston to an increase of 3% in Warren) compared to last year.
6) There is a good chance that when the legislature finally approves the yield (usually sometime in May), it will be higher than the estimate the Board has used for its projections. This would further decrease the equalized property tax rate. If the final yield is as high as projected by the tax commissioner in December, it would ultimately result in the equalized tax rate decreasing by 11% and our local tax rates decreasing an average of 5% across the six towns (compared to the 1.4% increase currently projected).
The Board will be finalizing the budget for warning at the January 26th meeting.
As always, the Board welcomes feedback from our community. One of the easiest ways to share your thoughts is to send an email to [email protected], which will go to every Board member. There is also time at every Board meeting for public comment. Alternately, reach out to one of your neighbors who is on the school board and share your thoughts in a personal email or phone call (see a list of Board members and contact information at https://tinyurl.com/523wtrnj).
The Board’s next meeting will be on Wednesday January 26th at 6PM. Community members may attend in person in the Harwood library or remotely via zoom (https://us02web.zoom.us/j/386460007#success), or watch it broadcast live on Youtube (http://tinyurl.com/huwebapp-youtube-live). Agendas and other related documents are available at huusd.org.