MONTPELIER — The School Board has approved a $16,986,916 budget for voters to consider in March, which represents an 8 percent increase that could reduce 15 positions.
Some of the reductions include job eliminations, but there is one retirement among them.
The increase translates to an estimated $260 tax increase, or 13 cents on the tax rate, for a $200,000 property, which had a $2,622 education tax bill for the current school year.
The spending increase is high enough that the district, in order to comply with state law, will have to present its operating budget as two questions on the March ballot. The first will be for $16,970,522; the second line will be for $389,132.
If voters approve only the first line of the operating budget, the tax bill would increase about $179 from the current school year for a $200,000 property.
The proposed cuts include several teaching positions, but only two full-timers: a music teacher and a special education teacher. Most are reductions in hours, and subject areas include math, English, English as a second language, foreign language and social studies.
Due to public feedback, some last-minute changes were made, including reinstating a physical education position initially planned for the chopping block. The board also authorized enough funding for the administration to decide whether to keep a Union Elementary School social worker.
The board had also been considering whether the ballot should include two $2.3 million bond questions or one $4.6 million bond question. But the district’s facilities director, Thom Wood, told the board Wednesday that most of the infrastructure repairs in the second bond likely would not begin immediately due to planning and logistics.
Board Chairwoman Sue Aldrich said that was a surprise to her.
The sole bond will be no more than $2.3 million for infrastructure work considered critical, such as addressing leaky roofs, a district heating project at Union Elementary School and certain bathroom repairs. Also included are interior and exterior door upgrades across the district to improve security.
The district has to pay only interest on the bond for the first year, but the district will be faced with $179,892 for principal plus interest in the 2015-2016 school year, an amount that will stay in that range for about five years.
Every $95,000 equals a 1-cent increase in the tax rate for the upcoming fiscal year, a figure that will vary in future.
The board had been wrestling with how to best present the fiscal challenges.
Board member Lowell VanDerlip said he believes the community will recognize the school district’s budget challenge. Beginning in the 2005-2006 school year, the increase was 2.8 percent with subsequent increases each year of 5.2 percent, 4.5 percent, 2.5 percent and 1.5 percent, then a 0.5 percent decrease and 1.5 percent increase. The current year’s increase, which was voted on last year, was 4.8 percent.
The 2014 fiscal year, which begins in July, would be 8 percent.
VanDerlip said Thursday the two-line operational budget vote is triggered when two conditions are both met: Per-pupil spending is above the state average and an overall budget increases beyond the rate of inflation plus 1 percent.
The city’s per-pupil spending was about $100 above the state average.
The total budget is nearly $17.4 million, but a grant budget line of $372,606 reflects certain federal money.
In addition to the school budget, the city is proposing a 2.2 percent or 2-cent tax rate increase for the March vote. Montpelier Alive has been advocating a 4.5-cent tax rate increase on commercial buildings in the downtown area, and the City Council is to decide at its next meeting whether to include that additional tax question on the March ballot.
The City Council will meet at 6:30 p.m. Thursday for its second public hearing on the proposed city budget.
In other news from Wednesday’s School Board meeting, Steve Robinson announced he would not be returning to the board, leaving an opening on the March ballot. Aldrich, the chairwoman, expressed her regrets and said he was an extremely helpful board member.
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