Dresden school budgets go to hearings this week

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/12/2021 3:53:06 PM
Modified: 1/12/2021 3:53:13 PM

NORWICH — Dresden officials say lower enrollment projections and changes to Norwich’s common level of appraisal could lead to a 13% increase in the Norwich school tax rate for the 2021-2022 school year.

That’s despite a roughly $9,700, or 0.1%, budget decrease proposed for the Marion Cross School, as well as modest increases for the Dresden School District.

Dresden, which oversees Hanover High School and Richmond Middle School, is set to see spending increase by 1.3%, or $382,000.

Meanwhile, Hanover residents could see a 0.4% increase in their school property taxes under a spending plan for the Ray School and shared costs for Dresden’s operations.

Proposed budgets for all three districts — Dresden, Norwich and Hanover — are scheduled to go before their respective school boards during public hearings this week. If approved, they’ll then be presented to voters at Town Meeting.

Dresden School Board Chairwoman Kelly McConnell said there are several “uncontrollable” factors influencing the districts’ budgets, with the first being a “swing in enrollment” that would benefit Hanover and negatively affect Norwich.

Hanover pays tuition to Dresden to send its 6th graders to Richmond Middle School, and next year’s projected class is down by about five students.

As a result, Norwich, which sends its 6th-grade students to the Marion Cross School, will still have to cover more of Dresden’s costs. SAU 70 Business Administrator Jamie Teague said that Dresden’s overall enrollment is expected to shift in the coming year, with Norwich students making up a greater portion of the school population.

That also means Norwich will be contributing more funds, she said.

The common level of appraisal, a method of ensuring that each Vermont town is paying its fair share to the state’s Education Fund, is also a factor in the projected increase in Norwich’s taxes, Teague said.

Norwich’s CLA dropped 4 percentage points, to 90.3%, in December, which will cause the homestead tax rate to rise by about 8 cents per $100 of a property’s assessed value, according to district budget documents.

Overall, Norwich’s homestead tax rate is projected to increase by 23 cents, or an additional $920 on a home valued at $400,000, for residents not covered by Vermont’s income sensitivity program.

McConnell, the Dresden chairwoman, said the COVID-19 pandemic posed a budgeting challenge, as well.

Twenty-two students between Hanover High School and Richmond Middle School withdrew to home school or attend a charter school, and there’s uncertainty over how many tuition students from nearby towns will choose Hanover High in the coming years, according to budget documents.

Officials also struggled over predictions surrounding the 2021-2022 school year, such as whether to order more personal protective equipment and maintain social distancing measures with distribution of a vaccine in sight.

“COVID-19 has been a tough thing budgeting-wise this year,” McConnell said. “It’s really hard to know what the residual effects will be on next year’s budget.”

Aside from Norwich’s tax issues, Superintendent Jay Badams said the three budgets are “remarkably low in terms of increases that are for directly funding school operations.”

The proposed $6.2 million Norwich spending plan would add the equivalent of 1.5 teachers for regular classroom instruction along with part-time funding for a regular education assistant, though partial funding for a technology teacher and the equivalent of 4.5 special education assistants would be cut. 

Wages for teachers would increase by $35,150 and special education costs would drop by about $115,400, partially based on enrollment figures.

In Hanover, a $15.6 million proposed budget would amount to an $85,600, or 0.5%, decrease under current spending.

However, most of those savings are from 6th-grade tuition, and direct spending on education is expected to rise by $406,800, or 3.4%, with wages and health insurance costs driving much of the increase.

Benefits in Hanover are projected to increase by $118,700, while the school district hopes to spend $68,850 on a new secure entryway for the Ray School.

Overall, the budgets would result in a 9% increase in Hanover’s school tax rate per $1,000 of a property’s assessed value, or an additional $36 for a home valued at $400,000.

On top of Dresden’s $28.1 million budget, which includes a 4.4% increase in health care costs and a 1.5% wage increase, school officials are considering an $842,700 bond for the upgrades and rebuilding of the technology infrastructure at the Richmond Middle and Hanover High Schools. If approved, the bond would have an additional impact on the tax rate.

The Dresden School Board will hold a public hearing on its proposed budget at 7:05 p.m. Tuesday, while the Hanover School Board will hold one at 7:05 p.m. on Wednesday.

The Norwich School Board will follow   those with a 6:30 p.m. meeting on Thursday.

Budget documents and links to access the meetings virtually are at sau70.org

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.

Correction

Dresden voters may be asked at Town Meeting to approve a $842,700 bond for upgrades and rebuilding of the technology infrastructure at the Richmond Middle and Hanover High Schools. Meanwhile, a $6.2 million budget proposed for the Marion Cross School would add the equivalent of 1.5 teachers for regular classroom instruction along with part-time funding for a regular education assistant, though partial funding for a technology teacher and the equivalent of 4.5 special education assistants would be cut. A story in Tuesday’s Valley News incorrectly described the bond proposal, which would have an additional impact on the tax rate, and the Marion Cross staffing changes.

 




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