The Taconic & Green Regional School District board approved a $33.2 million budget proposal Tuesday for the 2021-2022 school year, which represents a 0.7 percent decrease in size compared with the current year.
Despite that decrease, the district’s estimated tax rate is expected to increase by 3.9 cents, rising from its current equalized level of $1.603 to a projected $1.642, though the exact rate in each of the district’s nine member towns will vary depending on their respective ratios of total grand list value to sale prices over the past several years.
The tax-rate increase is partly because local revenues — a category that includes grants and non-tax revenue — for the district are projected to decrease by $415,756, or 16.7 percent.
“We saw a significant decline in non-resident tuition students, which is likely due to COVID,” according to a memo from Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union administrators to board members, referring to students from outside the district who pay to attend T&G schools. “While we hope to see enrollment increase next year, we cannot gauge whether non-resident tuition students will return at this point.”
Other factors in the tax-rate rise are a slight decline in estimated equalized pupils — a student head count calculation — and a potential 2.1-percent decline in the state-determined “property yield,” defined in law as “the amount of spending per equalized pupil that would result if the homestead tax rate were $1.00 per $100.00 of equalized education property value.”
The budget proposal calls for drawing on $764,601 in prior-year surplus funds to help mitigate what would otherwise be a projected equalized tax rate increase of about 8 cents. During the board meeting Tuesday, members expressed their intent to try to keep the equalized tax rate increase at or below 4 cents.
The tax rate is calculated by dividing education spending — the voted-on budget and warned articles minus local revenues and applied surplus — by equalized pupils, then dividing that number by the property yield, expected to be $10,763 but pending legislative approval. For T&G, that equals $1.662, but a 2-cent reduction because of an Act 46 incentive — the final year the district will receive such a benefit from its merger years ago — means that the adjusted equalized tax rate is projected to be $1.642.
The decrease in spending is partly related to K-8 and administrative staffing reductions made this year that are projected to remain in place for the 2021-2022 school year, amounting to a net loss of about six full-time positions, according to a memo to board members.
Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union Superintendent Randi Lowe said in an interview that administrators took steps last spring “to reduce positions in anticipation of a difficult tax year this year” and have been “very careful and strategic in our use of COVID relief funds.”
“We are very aware of what’s going on across our country, our state and our communities,” Lowe said. “And we’ve presented a budget that is as fiscally responsible as it can be at this point.”
Despite the staffing cuts, Lowe said the proposed budget is intended to meet current and future needs of students and still allows the district to offer strong educational programming, including summer educational opportunities.
Secondary-school spending is expected to increase by 1.9 percent — to about $12 million from $11.8 million — because of estimated tuition rate increases. The district does not operate a high school, instead paying to send students to private institutions. The rising freshman class appears to be smaller than the graduating senior class, the memo states, but the budget includes 15 “ghost students,” or students expected to move into the district for the next school year.
Residents of the district’s nine communities — Danby, Dorset, Landgrove, Londonderry, Manchester, Mount Tabor, Peru, Sunderland and Weston — will need to vote on the proposed budget before it is enacted. The 2021-2022 school fiscal year runs from July 1 through June 30, 2022.