Special Ed Costs Hit West Windsor

West Windsor Town and School meetings are Tuesday, March 4 at 9 a.m. in Story Memorial Hall.

West Windsor — A sharp increase in special education costs and middle school tuition in the proposed $2.6 million school budget is behind a projected 22-cent increase in the homestead tax rate for next year, School Board Chairman Erik Schutz said.

“We have more special education students coming into the district so our costs are rising,” Schutz said.

The proposed school budget is up about $190,000 from this year with $118,000 of that in the special education costs assessed to the town by the Windsor Southeast Supervisory Union.

A couple of years ago, the supervisory union centralized administration of special education for the district’s four towns, including Weathersfield, Windsor and Hartland. Special education costs in West Windsor are projected to rise from $322,000 to $441,000, a 37 percent increase. The school budget has an increase in middle school tuition of $183,000 but total high school tuition costs are down $116,000.

Schutz said the K-6 Albert Bridge School is seeing an enrollment increase, not a decline, as is the case in many Vermont districts. There are 85 students in the school as of Dec. 1, an increase of about seven from the last few years.

Schutz said the school budget expenses for the building are “flat” but the special education and tuition numbers are pushing the overall increase.

A 22-cent increase in the homestead rate to $1.71 per $100 of assessed valuation would add $555 in annual school taxes on a home assessed at $250,000, bringing the total education tax bill to $4,275. Part of that increase is also driven by an estimated 7-cent increase in the base statewide rate.

The town’s general fund budget of $448,000 is just $6,000 more than was spent for the fiscal year that ended Dec. 31 but $29,000 more than was budgeted. Most of that difference was in legal expenses, which were $38,000, about $21,000 over the budgeted amount.

Selectboard Chairman Glenn Seward said most of the extra legal expenses were associated with the town buying the sewer system at the shuttered Ascutney Mountain Resort.

The highway budget is up just 1.5 percent or about $8,000 to $559,000.

Seward said the impact of the general fund and highways budgets should mean a slight tax decrease from the current rate of 40 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. Last year, the rate was set a little higher than necessary because of uncertainty over the town’s cost for Tropical Storm Irene repairs and the possibility of grievances following the townwide reappraisal.

Even with a drop in the grand list of around $60 million because of lower property values at the ski resort, which closed in 2010, Seward thinks the town tax rate should remain stable or drop a little for next year.

Though he does not expect much debate on warning articles, which include special appropriations of $95,000 for different agencies, Seward anticipates town officials could talk about a long range capital plan because there are a few “big ticket” purchases coming up such as town hall repairs and highway equipment.

Town and school officers will be nominated and elected from the floor at town meeting. Schutz has said he is not interested in serving another term. Longtime Selectman Tom Kenyon is running for re-election.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.

CORRECTION

Longtime West Windsor Selectman Tom Kenyon is running for re-election. His plans were incorrectly reported in an earlier version of this story.