A scorecard for voters in the April 23 GM school budget re-vote

An early GM board budget meeting in late November 2023

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2024 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Next Tuesday, April  23, voters in Andover, Baltimore, Cavendish and Chester will go to the polls to decide whether or not to approve a somewhat smaller budget for the Green Mountain Unified School District for the 2024-25 school year. The original budget was rejected in March by a 79 vote margin out of a total of 1,319 cast. The vote counts were higher than usual due in part to the presidential primary. The 2023-24 budget was passed by a vote of 415 to 302.

Several items have increased over last year including:

  • a projected 16.4 percent increase in health care costs,
  • an increase in the number students with special needs and the cost of providing those (up $596,892) and
  • the need to budget funds for maintenance of the aging school infrastructure. The bond issue that would have addressed those maintenance costs was defeated by 47 votes in November 2022.

In addition to the increases, there are also a number of reasons that voters nixed the budget, not the least of which are changes to Vermont’s Byzantine school funding formula and their unintended consequences which led to a widespread belief that tax rates could rise by nearly 20 percent across the state. In 2022, the Vermont legislature passed Act 127, which was meant to make education more equitable across the state by adjusting the school funding formula and providing education quality and funding oversight.”  The idea was to send more money to schools that have a large population of students who cost more to educate, including low income students and those with special needs.

Superintendent Lauren Fierman and Business Manager Cheryl Hammond outline some proposed budget cuts for the board.

That would be accomplished by “weighting ” those students to make the school population greater than the actual head count and thus send more money “per pupil” from the education fund. And districts with those weighted populations would get that money without increasing their “base tax rate.” GM and Ludlow Mount Holly are among the districts with substantial weighted population.  In GM district’s case that rate would have remained at $1.34 per $100 of assessed value in spite of the increased spending.

But the base tax rate is never the final rate and part of the funding formula evens out the property values across the state. That mechanism is called the Common Level of Appraisal and it compares the fair market value of properties with their locally assessed value. If properties are selling for less than assessed, the tax rate is adjusted down. But if properties are selling for more than assessed, the tax rate is adjusted up. Of course, the local real estate market has been on an upward trajectory for several years and most towns have not incorporated those increases into their assessments.

According to Two Rivers Superintendent Lauren Fierman, the problem for the schools is that while residents vote on their budgets, the schools have no control over the CLA which is a big factor in the tax rate.

In answer to the voters’ rejection of the budget, the GM board eliminated:

  • a portion of the proposed capital reserve,
  • a building-wide substitute teacher for the high school,
  • some equipment and supplies for the guidance and technology departments and the music and industrial arts programs.

The board also realized savings on new hires of staff that replaced those at higher pay grades and through a $77,000 reduction in the supervisory union assessment. With these and other cuts, the budget was reduced by $432,561 down to $17 million. That’s a 2.73 per cent reduction. Those cuts bring the base tax rate down to $1.30. But with the CLA calculation, those final education tax rates could range between $1.33 to $1.85 per $100 of assessed value according to the supervisory union.

While some press reports give the impression that towns across the state are seeing increases of 17 per cent or more in education rates, that’s not the case for everyone. In the Green Mountain District the post-CLA calculations vary with Baltimore’s tax rate dropping 18.75 per cent from last year while Andover’s will rise 12.01 percent. Cavendish and Chester are in the middle with rises of 9.74 per cent and 8.84 per cent respectively. The reason that Baltimore’s tax rates have dropped is that they recently reassessed, bringing the fair market and assessment values in line.

If you have questions about the budget, the GM board will hold an informational meeting in the Green Mountain High School Library,  716 VT-103, at 6 p.m. on Thursday April 18 and via Zoom at https://trsu.zoom.us/j/88449272142


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  1. Arlene Mutschler says:

    Okay, so if a SD has a larger populations, WE ALL have to pay MORE? THe vermont way? NO WAY! Then make all a STATE WIDE schools, with the same agenda and curriculum. Central admin not have each school maintain it’s own admin staff, costing $$. Heck? We are already progressive socialism!

  2. James Goodfellow says:

    Thank you for this article. It’s first and only real explanation I could find. Another question is: what happens if the budget is voted down again and has not been approved by June? I know the school district can borrow 85% of the budget from the state but that will have to be repaid (with interest?). And that leaves 15% uncovered. Will the school then have to make severe cuts from the non-contracted for costs. Like sports teams and busing? At what point does the school district face Armageddon?