Rutland school officials ask for reduced budget
By Cristina Kumka
STAFF WRITER | December 13,2012
The majority of the Rutland School Board refused to consider a district spending plan with a 5.7 percent increase, or more than $2.5 million, which could drive up the tax rate on Rutland bills.
Peter Amons, chief financial officer for the district, said at the board’s meeting Tuesday night it was still too early to tell what the tax impact of the proposed $47.7 million budget for fiscal year 2014 would be. But under the current per-pupil cost and base amounts from the state, he said, the rate could be driven up 10 cents, from $1.40 per $100 of home value in Rutland to around $1.50.
A homeowner with a property valued at $150,000 would pay an extra $150 in property tax next year.
The estimated tax impact was dismissed by Amons on Wednesday as being merely a guess until January 2013 when the state issues the CLA or common level of appraisal and other factors dependant on the state Legislature are approved.
The CLA — one of the most important factors in the funding formula because it determines what locals pay based on the overall value of city properties — is expected to be finalized by the end of this year, or early 2013.
City Assessor Barry Keefe said this year’s CLA of 87.25 percent will likely be more in the city’s favor, increasing to 90 percent or more.
That slight increase in the CLA could result in the city’s tax rate increasing, but not as much as expected under the increased school spending plan.
This year, the owner with the same $150,000 property value paid $35 more a year when the tax rate between 2012 and current fiscal year 2013 increased by 3 cents, from $1.37 to $1.40.
This year’s rate features a smaller increase after the district cut 18 teacher and staff positions, limiting the budget increase to 1.7 percent over the prior year.
That budget was overwhelmingly approved by voters on Town Meeting Day.
Some of the largest increases in the newly proposed budget are $550,000, or about 1.2 percent of that 5.7 percent total, for two years worth of teacher salary increases and a 14 percent increase in health care costs for teachers.
Teacher salary increases, about 3 percent each per teacher, were not budgeted in fiscal year 2013 because a union contract was not finalized by the time the budget was developed, Board Chairman Peter Mello said in an interview Wednesday.
Mello said there was carry-forward money, or surplus, to pay teachers their increase this year but it has to be accounted for in this fiscal year 2014 budget.
But the proposed budget increase and any tax increase that could result from it, is very preliminary and likely to change following Tuesday night’s sentiment from School Board members, according to Amons and Superintendent Mary Moran.
Most board members called on the administration to come back with a reduction in the plan.
Hurley Cavacas, board member and a teacher in Fair Haven, said he has spoken to taxpayers who understand that the district couldn’t come up with another small budget increase as in years past.
“Most people I’ve talked to have great support within the city school system,” Cavacas said.
Board member Erin Shimp said the budget was a “step for our future.”
Member Rob Kurchena called for more “prudency” and member Peter Fagan said “it would be really nice of we can meet in the middle.”
Member Wayne “Skip” Cooke said for the first time he’s had taxpayers come up to him and say “enough is enough” and that they go to work hoping they still have a job.
“We can do better than that,” Cooke said. “I would be inclined to ask the administration for a recommendation of less than 5.7 percent.”
Moran said in an interview Wednesday that the budget is “not where we are going to end up.”
Moran said more staff cuts may happen beyond the four positions already proposed. Fewer of the proposed $500,000 new student investments will be made, she said, pointing to the possible reduction of a one-to-one computing program for students.
The next meeting is Jan. 8.