BENNINGTON -- The Mount Anthony Union Finance Committee voted unanimously on Monday to recommend a $28,527,618 budget to the school board for approval.

The budget is up from the $27,651,998 budget from last year, but the $875,620.25 in new spending is partially offset by a $764,390.61 increase in non-tax revenues, leading to an overall increase in spending of only about 0.5 percent over the current year's budget.

That said, because of the way Vermont calculates tax rates, the district is still expected to see its pre-Common Level of Appraisal adjusted tax rate rise by about 8.79 cents. This is partially due to a decrease in equalized pupils at the middle and high schools, down to 1,750.59 from 1,771.05 in FY14, as well as an increase in the state's base homestead tax rate, from which the adjusted homestead tax rate is derived.

‘Equalized pupils'

Vermont uses equalized pupils rather than the actual head count in each school when calculating spending per student. Equalized pupils is a figured derived by the state based on a weighted two-year average enrollment, where students who typically cost more to educate, such as secondary students, special needs students, and students for whom English is a second language, are weighted more heavily.

Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union CFO Rick Pembroke described the 2.96 percent increase in overall expenses as right in line with projections for inflation and salary increases. "There's no new staff in here," said Pembroke, "there's no less staff. It's pretty stagnant." MAU's projected FY15 spending per equalized pupil of $13,313 is very close to the state average of $13,144, and had been below before a 20 equalized pupil drop between FY14 and FY15.

Leon Johnson, who also serves as vice chairman of the MAU board, called during the meeting for more transparency in the budget, asking for summaries at the end of budget lines as to why expenditures were going significantly up or down, so that board members could make more informed decisions, and the public could be better educated about the budget. "I want to know really what you're doing, and I want to look at the whole picture, in here," said Johnson.

Treasurer Tim Holbrook encouraged Johnson's questions, but said, "People aren't going to go through this budget line by line. They're going to look at the bottom line, and the tax rate implications."

Holbrook also noted that many of the major increases and decreases in this year's budget are a result of shifting resources on paper, rather than making any significant additions or subtractions. For example, many of the finance office expenses were previously split between Administration and Finance, and now are being listed solely under Finance, leading to what appears to be a significant increase in the Finance budget, but is actually just a paper change.

MAU Middle School principal Tim Payne spoke on the importance of letting the public know about what the school is using taxpayer money for year-round, not just during budget season, so the public can see that their money is being put to good use. "We need to tout the school year round, so we don't feel the pressure when it comes to budget season," said Payne.

Derek Carson can be reached for comment at dcarson@benningtonbanner.com. Follow him at Twitter @DerekCarsonBB