One of the things I appreciate most about living in Vermont is the changing of the seasons. I’m referring to the changes that occur in our landscape and lifestyles as we transition from winter to spring to summer to fall and back again. There’s an old joke that says that “Vermont has three seasons-winter, mud season, and the Fourth of July!”

As a school administrator, I want to shed light on an additional season that we experience every year – budget season!

Budget season typically begins in late October, but sometimes, during challenging financial times, it can begin shortly after students return to school in late August. Although the next school year is still months away, the budget needs to be finalized before the end of January, so administrators have to begin to think about what they might need or want for the next school year shortly after the current year starts.  

The process begins with a look at the cost of continuing all of our current programs and services. Increases in wages, insurance, maintenance and energy costs as well as decreased costs due to retirements, projects, or other efficiencies are taken into account as we develop our first draft of the budget. As a result of this work, we are able to calculate the percentage increase in spending needed to open school during the following year. While the dollar amount and percentage of increased spending are important, the calculation that most impacts families is the tax rate. The tax rate is calculated using the overall expenses, the number of “equalized” pupils, the yield rate and the common level of appraisal (CLA).  These numbers are determined by the State of Vermont and are released and adjusted throughout the budget process. In our early calculations, we use last year’s figures or our best estimates to arrive at a potential tax rate which shows the potential impact on homeowners in our town. 

This “level services” budget is shared with the School Board during a November meeting. The board looks at the information presented and considers the needs of the students and the potential burden on the taxpayer. Depending on the information, they will ask the administration to make recommendations for additional needs or for suggestions to reduce the overall expense for discussion at the next month’s board meeting. 

The administration works to meet the requests of the board over the next month. At the same time, the State releases information that makes the tax implication more clear. The “equalized pupil” rate is based on the number of students in our school. Students of different ages are weighted differently based on a formula developed by the state. We calculate our per pupil rate by dividing our expenses by the number of equalized pupils. The cost per equalized pupil and the percent change from the previous year are the numbers that appear on the ballot when our citizens vote on our annual budget. In recent years, BFA has seen a steady increase in the number of students and thus, an increase in equalized pupils.

The tax rate is determined using the cost per pupil and the yield rate. The yield rate is set by the state and basically represents the value of an educational dollar at a consistent rate throughout the state. The greater the yield rate, the lower the tax rate. Throughout this year’s budget cycle, the rate changed several times, but, fortunately, always to a higher amount. 

The Common Level of Appraisal (CLA) is a calculation meant to provide a consistent home valuation across the state and adjust the tax rate. If the tax value determined by the town’s listers is aligned with the real estate value of the property, the CLA is 100% and the town’s tax rate is unchanged. If there is a disparity between listed value and real estate value, the percentage decreases, which increases the tax rate. This year, the CLA in Fairfax is 85.93% which caused an upward adjustment in our tax rate.

Given all of that background information, what does our BFA budget look like this year?

We were able to create a level services budget for the FY22 school year. The school board and administration are confident that our present level of services and programs will support the needs of our students.

The Town Meeting ballot will ask:

Shall the voters of said school district approve the school board to expend $14,636,092 which is the amount the school board has determined to be necessary for the ensuing fiscal year?  It is estimated that this proposed budget, if approved, will result in education spending of $14,589.86 per equalized pupil.

This projected spending per equalized pupil is 2.29% higher than spending for the current year.

If approved, the tax implications for Fairfax homeowners will be approximately (prior to income sensitivity property tax adjustments):

Budget season wraps up with voting on Town Meeting Day, March 2, 2021. You can vote in-person (at BFA Fairfax from 7am-7pm) or request a mail in ballot from the Town Clerk’s office (call 849-6111). I hope that this information is helpful. Please reach out to any administrator or School Board member with your questions.

Once budget season is over, mud season can’t be far behind!

John Tague is currently Principal of BFA Fairfax High School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jtague252

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