Education spending across the state is forecasted to increase by more than 3 percent in FY15. BStudent population continues to decline across the state. These statistics, combined with over 60 percent of taxpayer’s receiving income sensitivity adjustments to their tax obligation, and declining property values across the state, have resulted in the state considering raising property tax rates.
This BSD budget you will be considering on Tuesday, May 6, is a fiscally responsible budget, balancing the needs of students with the tax burden placed on property owners. The democratic process works best with a well informed electorate. I invite you to read the budget and corresponding documentation thoroughly and ask questions.
With the cooperation of the Bennington School District Board of Directors, Building Administrators, and strong fiscal oversight, the Bennington School District Inc. finished the 2013 fiscal year with a healthy fund balance (surplus) of $624,354. In accordance with State ACT 68, any fund balance is returned to the budget in the form of revenue, thereby reducing the local tax burden. You will see the FY13 fund balance recorded in the revenue section of the FY15 Budget under "Fund Balance."
All the indicators used to set the tax rate (by which BSD has control over) are very favorable.
Education Spending (ES) is up less than 2.5 percent compared to more than 3 percent across the state. This increase is largely a result of inflationary increases required by Collective Bargaining Agreements. Another positive indicator is BSD having a student teacher ratio of 17.9 to 1 compared to the National average of 16 to 1 and the state average of 9.4 to 1. This clearly demonstrates the efficient use of our staff.
Education Spending per Equalized Pupil (ES/EP) is up less than 1.5 percent. This represents modest increases in the budget coupled with the increasing student population. Although the state as a whole has a declining student population, BSD is experiencing an increasing student population coupled with increased poverty and student needs resulting in Equalized Pupils (EP) increasing steadily since FY11. BSD’s ES/EP at $11,945 is in the bottom 10 percent of its peer districts across the state.
It is true that local decisions and local budgets contribute to the tax rate; however local education budgets are a minor factor in setting Education Tax rates. Schools get their funding from the State Education Fund. Although education taxes make up the majority of revenue for this Fund, it is not the only source of revenue. Sales tax, the lottery, and other sources also contribute to the funding of education. The state’s overall economy plays a role in our education property taxes. A strong economy should take pressure off the property taxes. An explanation of Vermont’s school funding formulas can be found on our website at http://www.svsu.net/~central-office/finance-department/funding/FundingVTSchoolDistrict6-1-11.pdf.
In addition to the state economy playing a role in the cost of education, our local Grand List also plays a significant role. A Common Level of Appraisal for BSD of 89.08 percent puts additional pressure on the tax rate. An up to date Bennington Grand List with a CLA of 100 percent takes pressure off the tax rate.
There will be an informational hearing on Monday, May 5, at 6:30 p.m. at the fire house on River Street. Everyone is encouraged to come and ask questions. If you are unable to join us on Monday, please feel free contact myself, Superintendent McClure or any BSD Board Member with questions you may have. The superintendent and I can be reached at 802-447-7501.
Richard C. Pembroke Jr. is chief financial officer of the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union.