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). The last two 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. FWSU’s Business Manager determines any offsetting revenues (fund balance, interests, grants) and uses it to determine our Education Expenses. We calculate our per pupil rate by dividing our Education 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.
FY23 Budget Calculations for FWSU Schools
|÷Equalized Pupil Count||883.77||204.42||862.90|
|=Per Pupil Spending||$15,541.86||$17,678.46||$16,581.34|
|% Change from prior year||6.49%||4.44%||3.81%|
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. The yield rate can adjust as the legislature is in session, but we use the most conservative number released by the tax department at the time budgets are approved by boards.
The Common Level of Appraisal (CLA) is a calculation meant to provide a consistent home valuation across the state and adjusts 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.
FY23 Tax Rate Calculations for FWSU Schools
|Per Pupil Spending||$15,541.86||$17,678.46||$16,581.34|
|÷ Yield rate||$12,937||$12,937||$12,937|
When all is said and done (and calculated), the boards and administrators have developed budgets that meet the needs of our students including some additional services and reduce the tax burden on families compared to the previous year.
If approved, the tax implications for FWSU homeowners will be approximately (prior to income sensitivity property tax adjustments):
Change in Tax Expense compared to previous year
Budget season wraps up with voting on Town Meeting Day March 1, 2022. You can vote in person or request a mail in ballot from the Town Clerk’s office. 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!
FULL DISCLOSURE: This blog post was originally posted during the 2021 Budget Season. I liked the season analogy and the explanations were clear, so I opted to rework it a bit and include this year’s data rather than start from scratch. Thanks for reading all the way to the end!