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School Tax Rate on Rise In Dresden

Hanover, Norwich Proposals Also Have Increases in ’14-15

Hanover — The school portion of the property tax rates in Hanover and Norwich are estimated to go up 5 and 6 percent, respectively, under spending proposals for the 2014-15 school year.

The proposed $24.1 million Dresden School District budget, which includes Richmond Middle School and Hanover High School, represents a 2.7 percent increase over the current year’s. That meets a goal administrators set to keep spending increases below 3.5 percent for next school year.

Meanwhile, the Hanover School District’s proposed $12.3 million budget is up nearly 5 percent.

If approved, it would amount to nearly $575,000 in additional spending and result in an estimated property tax rate of $12.30 per $1,000 of valuation, a 5 percent increase.

Dresden officials also want to borrow $200,000 to add a shelter and girls softball diamond to the Dresden Norwich Fields, and Hanover will be seeking to bond for around $5.2 million to renovate the Ray School. However, the Ray School bond is not expected to affect the tax rate next year.

Norwich school officials are putting forward a $5.4 million budget that is nearly $195,000 higher — a 3.8 percent increase.

Norwich officials said the school portion of the town’s tax rate would actually have gone down if not for a 7-cent increase in Vermont’s statewide education tax rate.

And so, Norwich residents potentially could end up paying 6 percent more in school taxes, with an estimated rate of $1.84 per $100 of valuation.

“Were it not for the increase in the statewide ed tax rate, Norwich would be looking at a tax rate decrease of probably about 1 percent,” said Neil Odell, the Norwich School Board chairman. “Almost all of that increase is due to the statewide ed tax rate increase.”

Rising special education costs figure into all three budgets, especially in Dresden, which includes grades seven through 12 at the middle school and Hanover High.

The Dresden School District also educates sixth-grade students from Hanover on a tuition-paying basis.

The middle school wants to add the equivalent of 3.41 full-time positions to the special education staff next fall, and the high school is seeking 3.15 positions, in response to rising demand, said John Aubin, SAU 70’s assistant superintendent for business. Combined, special education costs at the middle and high schools are anticipated to go up by more than $300,000, a 1.28 percent increase in the Dresden budget. Otherwise, Dresden tried to hold the line on new spending, said Dresden Chairman Carey Callaghan, of Norwich.

“It’s a very tight budget,” Callaghan said.

The Dresden budget will be presented to the public on Jan. 21 at 7 p.m. in the Hanover High School library.

Hanover, too, is planning to hire more special education staff, but it is not necessarily because of new demands from students with special needs. The district had tried to reduce the number of special ed assistants in the past, but ultimately had to reverse its decision because the demands were too great, Aubin said.

“We ended up hiring all of the ones we had last year plus more,” Aubin said. “It just proved to be not workable.”

Hanover School Board Chairman Kevin Cotter said there is otherwise little additional spending.

“I believe that the budget is a fair budget,” he said.

The Hanover budget includes the K-through-fifth grade Ray School, costs for the town’s sixth-graders at the Richmond Middle School and transportation costs for Hanover students from grades K-12.

School officials will discuss the budget on Jan. 15 at 7 p.m. in the Ray School Music Room.

Norwich school officials are asking for over $68,000 more for special education, accounting for roughly a third of next year’s proposed spending increase.

The district actually looks to be in good shape for next year, Odell said, and is expecting enrollment at the Marion Cross School to be up by 26 students.

The tax impact on the town will be steeper than many expected, however, because the statewide education tax is rising 7 cents, due to what Vermont education officials said is declining enrollment and rising spending in other districts.

The Norwich budget, which includes the K-6 Marion Cross School and transportation expenses, will be presented to the public on Jan. 23 at 7 p.m. in the Marion Cross School’s multipurpose room.

Not included in the budgets are construction projects for the Dresden Norwich Fields and the Ray School. Dresden officials are seeking voter approval for a $200,000 upgrade to the Dresden Norwich Fields, most of which would go toward building a softball field. The team currently plays at Huntley Meadows while the baseball team plays at Dresden Norwich Fields.

The baseball field is in better shape, and many residents have complained that the situation is unfair.

The project is intended to remedy that imbalance.

“We’re trying to provide something comparable,” Callaghan said.

The upgrade also includes a shelter at the field where people could seek protection from bad weather. The money would be paid back over five years and add roughly a penny to the Hanover tax rate and a quarter of a penny to Norwich’s rate.

Hanover voters also will be asked to approve an estimated $5.2 million bond to renovate the Ray School. The building hasn’t had a significant upgrade in 20 years, Aubin said. The project would add a classroom to accommodate all-day kindergarten set to begin next year, switch the school from fuel oil heat to propane, put a new surface on the roof and reconfigure the front access area.

The district would like to begin work this summer and the project is expected to take two years, Aubin said.

“We really have to get right going, at least on the kindergarten classroom,” Aubin said. “We’re going to have kids show up at the end of August and want to have a place to go to school. So we’d like to get the kindergarten classroom at least done this coming summer.”

If approved at Town Meeting in March, there would likely be no tax impact in the first year from the Ray School bond, Aubin said. School officials expect it would add 21 cents to Hanover’s tax rate in FY16, though it would only be a 7-cent net increase because payments on a prior bond issue expire that same year.

Chris Fleisher can be reached at 603-727-3229 or cfleisher@vnews.com.