POWNAL -- Education taxes in Pownal are likely to go up by $.08 before the school board even looks at creating a budget for fiscal year 2015.
Richard Pembroke, Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union CFO, spoke before the Pownal Elementary School Board on Monday, detailing the process the state uses to determine education tax rates. According to Pembroke, there are two primary influences on the education tax; Pownal's common level of appraisal (or CLA) and the school's number of "equalized pupils."
CLA is a system used by the state of Vermont to normalize property appraisals across the state. It accomplishes this by comparing appraised home values to actual market prices for homes, then adjusting accordingly for the town. For example, Pownal's CLA in 104.90 percent, meaning that houses were selling, on average, for 4.9 percent more than their appraised value on the town's grand list. School tax is based on CLA, not actual appraised value.
Additionally, cost per student, which is the basis of the tax system, is calculated not by total enrollment, but by a system that measures equalized pupils. That formula is still based on enrollment, but gives additional weight to secondary school students, students from lower-class economic backgrounds, and students for whom English is not a first language, additional weight, due to the increased expenses a school system will need to educate these students.
For Pownal, the CLA jumped up from 103.99 percent in FY14 to 104.90 percent in FY15, meaning that the property values in Pownal are being valued higher compared to their grand list values in the formula this year that in the past. This actually lowers the expected tax rate. The number of equalized pupils has dropped as well, from 268.61 in FY14 to 263.27 in FY15.
Pembroke explained that the reason for the projected increase, even if the budget were level funded, is twofold. "First," he said, "You see a stagnant grand list across the state." With student populations that are increasing overall, and state mandated dollar per student ratios going up, lack of additional taxable property value is putting pressure on the schools. Additionally, he said, incomes from other state taxes that support education, such as the gas tax and lottery tax, have gone down, leaving property tax to make up the difference.
Pembroke, who had just come from a similar budget meeting with the Mount Anthony Union School Board, acknowledged that MAU is facing a similar increase. However, he stressed very strongly that you cannot add an $.08 increase from Pownal and an $.08 increase from MAU to equal a $.16 increase for Pownal residents overall. "The numbers must be prorated," said Pembroke. Since 51 percent of the children from Pownal attend Pownal Elementary, and 49 percent attend Mount Anthony Union, one must multiply the projected $.08 increases by those percentages, meaning for Pownal residents, should the budget be level funded, the tax rate would increase by about $.04 in taxes that would go toward MAU and about $.04 that would go toward Pownal Elementary.
School board members were understandably distressed by the news. "When you look at the bottom line tax rates in Pownal, the largest portion is the schools," said Chairwoman Cynthia Brownell.
"It's like that all across the state," said Pembroke.
"The state needs to sit down and revamp the education tax system," said Brownell, shaking her head.
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB