Saturday January 19, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- Brattleboro property owners will see a 3.12 cent increase in the tax rate next year if Town Meeting Representatives approve the proposed 2014 budget for the Brattleboro Town School District.

The board on Wednesday approved the almost $15.4 million budget for the town’s three elementary schools, which is an increase of just more than $519,000, or almost 3.5 percent.

With a more than 3 cent increase in Brattleboro’s assessment for the high school projected for next year, school taxes in Brattleboro will go up by 6.15 cents in 2014.

While up a little bit, the budget brings Brattleboro’s per pupil spending below the state threshold, so there will not be a forced second vote, and the town will not be penalized for going over the threshold.

The increase is largely due to increases in teacher pay, health insurance and liability insurance, Windham Southeast Superintendent Ron Stahley said.

Health insurance is up, on average, about 14 percent, and the district also got hit with a hefty 50 percent increase in its liability insurance, with the annual payment jumping from $75,000 to $112,500.

Included in the budget is the first payment on an estimated $275,000 in capital improvements that Town Meeting Representatives will vote on independently from the budget.

The district wants to spend $222,000 for improvements to the floors, kitchen and parking lot at Academy School, and another $53,000 for an upgrade to the Oak Grove Heating system.

If the special funding is approved the district will take out a four-year note, with annual payments coming in at about $77,000, which is included in the 2014 budget.

Stahley said that while some fixed costs are driving up the budget, the district is also remaining committed to some programs that Stahley says are leading to improved performance, and which drive down costs in the long term.

The after school program, which offers both academic support to students who need it and options for gifted and talented students, is up about $35,000, including transportation and tutor costs.

Some of the costs are offset with grants and by moving resources from other programs, still, Stahley says, the district is committed to having more students, and not fewer, take part in the after school program.

Special education costs, which traditionally have been high in Brattleboro, will increase by less than 1 percent next year.

Brattleboro has been a leader in the state in accessing Vermont’s pre-kindergarten program which allows public schools to create partnerships with private early education centers.

Next year 105 students are expected to be enrolled in the early education program, driving the costs up more than 36 percent to just more than $313,000.

The district is also expanding its foreign language program and making a big investment in text books at Oak Grove School.

Stahley said the budget was up by about 5 percent when administrators first presented their spending plans, and the board and the principals were able to bring it down by about two percentage points, and below the state threshold.

"We always try to balance need with what the ability of the taxpayers is to pay. The programs that we have we think are very important, and we want to maintain them," said Stahley.

"We tried to develop a reasonable budget."

A special information session on the budget is planned for Wednesday, March 20, at Academy School.

Brattleboro’s Representative Town Meeting is scheduled for Saturday, March 23.

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or hwtisman@reformer.com. You can follow him on Twitter @HowardReformer.