BRATTLEBORO -- Brattleboro property owners will see their tax bills jump by another 5.5 cents if the Town School Board approves the preliminary budget that was released at the board's last meeting.
The board has to approve the budget some time in the next week or so, and while Superintendent Ron Stahley said there might minor changes, the board will likely be asked to approve the $15.5 million budget for the town's three elementary schools at its next meeting.
Proposed spending over the current year is actually up just less than $120,000, or less than 1 percent.
Spending in the three elementary schools was largely level-funded in the proposed 2015 operating budget. But a spike in the state education tax is driving the overall education tax rate higher.
And with the proposed Brattleboro Union High School tax rate set to jump by about 5 cents, Brattleboro taxpayers will be facing an education tax rate of about $1.68, a more than 10 cent tax rate increase over the current year
The proposed Brattleboro budget includes a projected $57,950 payment on a new wood pellet boiler proposed for Academy School. Town Meeting Representatives will be asked in a separate article to approve borrowing about $298,000 on a five-year bond to purchase and install the pellet boiler for Academy School. The school board wants to use $50,000 out of its surplus to help pay for the boiler, which is estimated to cost about $315,000.
At last year's Representative Town Meeting the school board was grilled for more than two hours on its spending and the budget passed by less than 10 votes in the end.
At a special budget meeting Monday Windham Southeast Supervisory Union Finance Director Jim Kane told the board that it would have to make a good case for this year's tax increase.
"Last year was not a positive meeting," Kane told the board. "You've got to be proactive and get the word out this year. If you wait to explain it all at the meeting it is going to be too late."
The school board has been grappling with its need to invest in the town's schools, while not adding too much on to the ever-increasing tax rate.
Earlier in the budget sessions the board considered upgrades to Academy School's modular classrooms, but the board was reluctant to invest money in a structure that probably only has another year or two left in it.
At the same time the board knows the town is not ready to approve another multi-million dollar construction project.
In the end the board left most of its proposed capital upgrades out of the 2015 budget, while saying that projects at all three schools will have to be considered in the next few years.
"There is a couple of million dollars worth of work out there on the horizon," Kane said.
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. You can follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.