Finance Committee slams high school budget

Monday February 4, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- The Brattleboro Town Finance Committee is recommending that town residents reject the proposed 2014 Brattleboro Union High School budget when district members from all five town meet to consider the budget at the annual meeting on Feb. 12, at 7 p.m. in the BUHS gymnasium.

Voters from Brattleboro, Dummerston, Guilford, Putney and Vernon will meet that night to consider the BUHS budget.

The Brattleboro Town Finance Committee is a committee established in the town's charter which reviews proposed expenditures of the town, and of the town's school district, and then makes recommendations to Town Meeting Representatives or voters who are being asked to consider a budget or bond vote.

The BUHS budget is expected to increase by only 1.32 percent, but the committee is still saying that the proposed spending plan is too high in light of the school's declining enrollment.

"In our opinion even a modest budgetary increase like the one proposed is not affordable," the committee wrote in the report. "More importantly, when combined with other big ticket items the town has needed to take on -- the waste water treatment plant, the police/fire station upgrades -- the confluence of taxes and fee increases will make Brattleboro an unaffordable town to live in and do business in."

There are many ways to look at spending in a school district, and the Finance Committee says that when the equalized student spending rate is considered the BUHS District #6 spends more on its students than any other union high school in the state.

According to the Finance Committee, if the budget is approved as written Brattleboro's portion of the BUHS District #6 budget would be about 34 percent of total Brattleboro property taxes.

Brattleboro property owners would see their taxes go up by about 3.5 cents if the proposed budget is approved.

The Finance Committee points out that BUHS tax increase comes on top of the projected increase in the town school district budget and in the municipal tax rate, as well in addition to the police-fire stations bond and the waste water treatment plant payments.

Water and sewer rates in Brattleboro are projected to jump by 7 percent, while the police/fire project will add another 10 cents to the municipal tax rate.

Also, Brattleboro's Grand List is remaining relatively static, the committee says, so that as school spending goes up every year, the only way to raise the revenue is by asking taxpayers to pay more.

In the report, the committee does consider that the addition of Guilford students to the Brattleboro Area Middle School will bring in unexpected revenue next year, but beside the Guilford tuition there are no other sources of revenue on the horizon.

BUHS is being hit with a projected 14 percent increase in its health care coverage, which is adding more than $186,000 to its budget, and the committee contends that the expenditure is beyond the control of the district.

The Vermont League of Cities and Towns predicts that school budgets, on average, will increase by 4.8 percent in 2014, and the 1.32 percent increase at BUHS is well below that number.

Projected personnel salary increases at BUHS District #6 are also relatively low at less than 1 percent, compared to the statewide 2.5 percent average, VLCT says, and special education expenses are dropping after years of increase.

"Much of the evidence points out that BUHS D#6 has been very careful about expenditures and has found creative ways to save money in an educationally balanced way," the Finance Committee wrote in the report. "This does not change the fact that the local tax base is flat and even modest increases like this are not sustainable."

The committee also points out that the BUHS District #6 budget continues to climb even as the number of students in the district falls.

In grades 7 through 12 the equalized pupil count between 2009 and 2014 is expected to be almost 14 percent, far greater than the statewide estimated drop of about 6 percent through 2018, according to Department of Education data.

The committee hopes to have copies of the report available in Town Hall, and on the town's web site, sometime this week.


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