‘Optimistic’ budget picture in ETSD

State projects additional dollars to offset increasing special education costs

.

By Matthew Preedom
For The Essex Reporter

ETSD_School SignMonday the Essex Town School Board received a bit of good news from Montpelier which projects to increase its contributions to the state budget by $447,393 including $380,719 additional dollars to offset increasing special education costs.

Last week it was reported that the special education budget would increase by $470,816, which will be a wash after accounting for increased funding from state and federal sources.

Superintendant Mark Andrews offered some perspective: “Back in 2011, 2012, and even 2013, we were educating many of those kids out of district which is expensive. So our focus has been building capacity in the district to reduce those costs. Yes, the [special education] has gone up by over 400,000 dollars, but we are educating those kids here in our town and that is saving us money.”

Those efforts seem to be paying off for ETSD as the district’s share of the special education budget is projected to be 32.5 percent next year, 2 percent less than fiscal year 2015 and a half a point less than was budgeted in FY 2014.

At least one of Montpelier’s changes had a negative impact on the budget. This year the school district is required to contribute an additional $1,087 per new teacher toward the Vermont Teachers’ Retirement Fund.

Chairperson Kim Gleason pointed out that this was designed to bolster the pension fund but, “it was an arrangement made at the state level that is now being ‘fixed’ at the local level. It’s not much this year, but it could be quite burdensome in future years as we expect some turnover among our teachers and new, younger teachers will carry this additional cost.”

The district is required to contribute 12.84 percent of salaries toward the retirement fund; teachers contribute either 5 or 6 percent based on when they entered the system.

At this time, it is projected that the state’s revenue contributions and tax plans will have the effect of decreasing taxes 2.5 percent. Last year Montpelier managed to increase ETSD taxes 4.94 percent on its own. With the required increases to the budget, Essex Town is looking at a net tax increase between 2.8 percent and 4.8 percent, depending on how much the board decides to set aside for future capital expenses. Last year’s budget was projected to increase taxes by over 8 percent.

Vice-Chair Dan House expressed his joy at this revelation: “The most optimistic thing that I see is the difference between last year and this year. Last year, if we did nothing, taxes would go up by 5 percent. This year, it’s almost the opposite and that is encouraging.”