Milton voters will be asked to approve a $32.3 million budget for the Milton Town School District on Town Meeting Day.
The proposed budget comes with an anticipated tax rate of $1.5852, a 12 cent increase over the current year. The final tax rate won’t be known until after Town Meeting Day when the legislature will approve a portion of the tax formula known as a yield. The yield is how much could be spent per pupil in the state if the tax rate was $1.00.
Spending per pupil in each district is compared to the yield in order to determine the tax rate. If spending is 50 percent over the yield, then the tax rate for that district will be $1.50.
If projected yield is $10,883. If school budgets come in lower than expected less money will be needed for the Education Fund, out of which comes the funds to operate all of the state’s public schools. If the Education Fund needs less revenue, then the state will raise the yield, narrowing the gap between the yield and the district’s per pupil spending and lowering education property tax rates.
However, coming in with lower than projected spending will be a challenge for schools when health care spending is slated to increase by $68 million collectively in the state’s public schools. For MTSD, that translates to $312,400 more for faculty and staff health care than in the current year.
Health care premiums increased and statewide bargaining over health care changed how MTSD provides health care to its employees. The combination was “a little bit of a double whammy,” said Rex. “It was like the perfect storm for us.”
In response, plans to add some staff, particularly to address the social and emotional needs of students, were shelved. Cuts were made instead. A half time position teaching students for whom English is not their native language was cut. Hours for the health clerk were cut. Cuts were also made to field trips, staff training and development, field maintenance, and replacing older equipment and furniture.
Even with the cuts, the budget is up 3.7 percent. Without the cuts, just keeping the existing staff and programming, the budget would have increased 6.77 percent, according to Rex.
Overall, the budget is up $1.5 million over last year, with tuition up $252,400, salaries increasing $87,800, worker’s compensation up $59,600 and debt service increasing $108,600.
Milton was also hit with a decrease in revenue. Last year the board agreed to stop using budget surpluses from previous years to offset current expenditures because the amount varies from year to year, sometimes dramatically. “You can’t guarantee that,” said Rex.
This year, MTSD’s revenues are down $679,000.
The combination of increased spending and lower revenues means that the amount MTSD will need from the Education Fund is up $1.83 million to $26.2 million. The biggest factor in determining a district’s tax rate — spending per pupil — is determined by dividing the amount coming from the Education Fund by the equalized per pupil count.
At MTSD that count dropped significantly. The equalized count isn’t the number of students in the school. Instead, it’s weighted to reflect the difference in resources needed to educate students in different grade levels and with different needs. Pre-schoolers, for example, count for less than high school students. Students from low income families are weighted more heavily, as are students with special needs or students for whom English isn’t their native language.
The state lowered MTSD’s equalized per pupil count by 37.7 students, to a number lower than the actual number of students in the district. Rex said it is unclear what caused the drop.
Had MTSD’s per pupil count stayed where it was for the current year, the fiscal year 2021 per pupil spending would be $16,048. But because of that 37.7 drop, Milton’s per pupil spending increased to $16,426.
Increased expenses, lower revenues and a lower equalized per pupil count all combined to drive per pupil spending up. Comparing MTSD’s per pupil spending to the yield results in a tax rate of $1.5094, but that isn’t the end.
The tax rate must still be adjusted by the Common Level of Appraisal (CLA). Because all school taxes are paid into the Education Fund, the legislature did not want to let towns artificially lower their tax bills by letting the appraised value of properties in the town fall below their actual value. Conversely, if appraised values exceeded the market value of properties in the town, then residents would be paying more than their fair share into the Education Fund.
The CLA compares appraised value of properties in the town which have sold over the past three years to the sale price. In Milton’s case, properties are selling for nearly 5 percent more than their assessed value.
In Milton, applying the CLA raises the tax rate by nearly 5 percent to $1.5852.
More information about the budget is available at www.mtsd-vt.org.