School budget under construction

MANCHESTER - School district directors are mulling a proposed budget for the coming year that at present anticipates a 2.7 percent overall spending increase.

The estimated budget for the coming fiscal year (2015) is $12,059,758. Last year, the budget voters approved at town meeting came in at $11,737,700; however the actual spending level is expected to check in at $11,898,581.

In the new budget plan currently in development, elementary education spending in grades Kindergarten through 8th grade is slated to rise to $3,498,535, compared to last year's budgeted amount of $3,440,998; about a 1.7 percent increase. Special education spending, however, is slated for an 11.5 percent increase, to $1,658,541, compared to the previous budget's $1,487,657. Spending in the pre-school program is scheduled to drop by 3.2 percent, from $303,040 to $293,445.

On the revenue side however, there's good news; Manchester Elementary-Middle School is expected to take in 19.5 percent more in tuition money in fiscal year 2015. This would bring $93,770 in revenue to the district.

On the secondary school front, Burr and Burton Academy is seeking an increase in its tuition rate this coming year. Last year, tuition for sending towns was set at $14,875 and this year if approved, it will be raised to $15,400. The tuition rate for non-sending towns will be $16,400. Currently, that rate is $15,875.

Mark Tashjian, Burr and Burton headmaster said this tuition rate is fair and sensitive to the economic concerns of the towns the school serves. "It is essentially a cost of living increase," he said in an interview. "It [tuition] is more than some schools, but less expensive than many private schools."

Overall secondary education will see a small .3 percent decrease in education spending. However, as in the elementary program, secondary school special education spending is expected to go up by 7.9 percent to $639,276.

Currently, the education tax rate for Manchester is $1.3911. The base rate, set by the state is $.94. The base tax rate is pending legislative approval, Dan French, superintendent of the Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union said. There is an anticipated base tax increase by the state of 5 cents per $100 of assessed property value.

On Thursday, Dec. 19, the Manchester School Board met and discussed the budget. Among the subjects discussed was the amount of an anticipated revenue surplus that should be applied to the current budget under development.

There is a surplus of approximately $250,000 due to excess tuition, Daniel French, the superintendent of the Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union said.

"I haven't, at this point, brought that surplus to bear in this equation," he said. "If we were to bring all of that in, and let's say $63,000 [it takes $63,780 to drop the tax rate a penny] drops the tax rate a penny, if I were to apply $250,000 it would drop the tax rate by 4 cents."

At that point, he said, the local education tax rate would drop to a 2-3 cent increase.

Brian Vogel, one of the school board members, asked French if it were at all possible to trim from the budget to lower the local education tax rate by a cent, without adding the full amount of the surplus to lowering the tax rate. Before the budget is finalized in mid January, the board will be presented with options for cutting the tax rate. However, French said, what will be cut are the "extras."

The board then decided to apply $220,000 of the surplus to lowering the tax rate. A warned article will be included at Town Meeting to vote about putting $30,000 in a grounds fund. MEMS hopes to build a new playground and add a green space. The money in the fund will go towards getting a plan made, Katy McNabb, school board chair said. The money for the playground will be raised through fundraising and private donations.

Currently, pre-school through 8th grade enrollment at MEMS is 414 students; next year it is projected to rise slightly to 418.


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