Weston board reviews increased T&G tax rate, eyes Town Meeting delay

By Cherise Madigan
©2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Despite a decreased budget, the Taconic & Green Regional School District’s estimated tax rate is expected to increase by 3.9 cents in fiscal 2022, according to Weston’s representative on the district board, Deborah Lyneis. The increase will bump the current equalized rate of $1.603 to about $1.642, she told the Weston Select Board at its Jan. 12 meeting. The equalized rate is not the final tax rate which must be calculated for each town based on each town’s Common Level of Appraisal. Click here for information on how education taxes are calculated.

Rates increasing despite budget cuts

The Taconic & Green’s $33.2 million budget for fiscal 2022 is down nearly 0.7 percent from this year, a decrease made possible by staffing reductions — of about six full-time positions — made ahead of this school year, according to Lyneis. Surplus funds stemming from the closure of in-person schooling last spring have also contributed to budget cuts, she said, although some are being reserved for future years.

“I do think this administration is trying to be as responsible as they can and as a board we expect that of them,” Lyneis said. “This has been a tough year for them.”

Deborah Lyneis, Weston member of the T&G School District Board.

The estimated 2.4 percent tax rate increase can be attributed to the continuing decline in enrollment, including a decrease since the onset of the pandemic in tuition-paying non-resident students, Lyneis said.

Secondary school spending is also projected to increase due to higher tuition rates. Though the incoming freshman class is expected to be smaller than the graduating class, the budget has factored in 15 extra secondary students to account for families who may move to the district before the fall for the 2021-2022 school year.

Increases also stemmed from employee health insurance costs, Lyneis said, negotiated at the state level between the Vermont School Boards Association and the teachers’ union. That  eventually went to arbitration, which sided with the teachers’ union and resulted in increased costs for districts.

“The expense is obviously in staff, faculty, [and] teachers,” Lyneis said, explaining that teacher certification requirements contribute to high staff-to-student ratios in the region’s middle schools. While some students in Manchester and Dorset can take classes at nearby schools, students from the district’s “mountain towns” are often too far from other schools, meaning their choices are limited.

A centralized middle school could save money in the long run, Lyneis said. Select Board chair Denis Benson suggested that the district look into unifying the three middle schools by using the remote learning methods that have become commonplace during the pandemic.

Lyneis agreed, adding that it could cut down on the time students — especially students from this area — spend on school buses. She said she would bring the idea to the school board at their next meeting.

Like other Weston board members, Anne Fuji’i’ would like to see more offerings in the classrooms.

Vice chair Jim Linville also suggested that towns or districts could voice their objections to certification requirements to the state government, and ask for them to be reconsidered. Such rules, he said, are “hurting our children” and taxpayers.

“My brother is not a mathematician, but I’ll bet he can teach eighth grade algebra; I don’t think you’re a mathematician, but I bet you can teach eighth grade algebra,” he said.

Board member Anne Fuji’i agreed that expanding course options, at both the middle and secondary school levels, is necessary through some means. “Our kids are at a huge disadvantage in that way,” she said. “I don’t think we try hard enough.”

The Taconic & Green Regional School District nine towns will vote on the FY2022 budget and other items via Australian Ballot on Tuesday, March 2. A community survey will also be circulated soon, Lyneis said, asking for feedback from all community members.

Town Meeting delay anticipated

The Weston Select Board is awaiting Gov. Phil Scott’s signing of a bill that would allow towns to postpone their annual Town Meetings because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Vermont legislature passed the bill and sent it to Scott on Jan. 15. If he signs it, as is expected, members agreed that they would delay the meeting.

The board will still work to prepare the Town Meeting warning by the Jan. 26 deadline.

Before the state bill was proposed, the board had planned to convene briefly, then move to adjourn until a later date — a longstanding rule designed for snowstorms, but one that can backfire. If residents attend the meeting to move against postponing and hold the session instead, towns may find themselves violating public health guidelines such as gathering in larger than allowed numbers and not social distancing.

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About the Author: Journalist and photographer Cherise Madigan specializes in writing about outdoor recreation, the environment and travel. She has roots in Manchester and a history of reporting throughout Southern Vermont. Madigan is a graduate of Nazareth College of Rochester, earning her degree in Political Science summa cum laude in 2015.

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