Barre Town school budget still under wraps
BARRE TOWN — The budget for the town’s pre-K-through-8 school system isn’t ready for prime time.
On a night when the proposed budget that will appear on the ballot in March was scheduled to be adopted by the School Board, it was barely even discussed.
Voters can rest assured it has been, according to Chairwoman Brenda Buzzell, who offered a detail-free update on a spending plan that she said is still a work in progress.
“Our board has been working very diligently on our budget,” Buzzell said during Wednesday night’s meeting. “We are not ready to approve it yet. We are still looking at a lot of numbers.”
Board member Brent Tewksbury, who is chairman of the board’s finance committee, echoed that assessment. If Superintendent John Bacon hadn’t steered the conversation back to budget-related territory near the end of the meeting, discussion of the budget would have spanned less than a minute.
As it was, Bacon didn’t break new ground involving the board’s deliberations. His comments focused exclusively on three numbers over which the board has no control. One of them — the town’s common level of appraisal — was recently set by the state; the other two — the state education tax rate and the base education rate — are both estimates.
The CLA is a community-by-community appraisal-based calculation that the state uses to equalize school tax burdens among all Vermont towns. It expresses a town’s property assessments as a percentage of what the state believes is fair market value; towns where property is undervalued see their education tax rate go up to compensate. Barre Town’s CLA is still trending up — from 85.84 percent to 86.43 percent.
Bacon acknowledge the increase would trigger a reduction in the local school tax rate, but he did not offer an estimate. He did say officials are estimating the state education tax rate will climb 4 cents from 89 cents to 93 cents per $100 of assessed property value and that the base education amount per pupil will increase from $8,700 to $9,033. Both, he said, are averages of estimates provided by the state Department of Education in advance of this year’s legislative session.
“The state is really raising the tax rate before you make any decisions on your budget,” he told the board.
The latest draft of the budget that is under consideration calls for spending just over $10.5 million to run the local school system. That reflects an increase of roughly $355,000 over the $10.2 million budget that voters approved last year.
The board is expected to resume its budget deliberations at 5 p.m. Jan. 16 and hopes to adopt a final version of the budget that evening.
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