As one of the largest employers in Bennington County, Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union and its member school districts have the obligation of handling our budgets with immense care. My office, school principals, Director of Finance Renee Gordon and her team, along with Boards of Education, have worked diligently to draft budget proposals that maintain the employment of all current employees while ensuring the safety and education of our students.
This year’s budgets proved to be especially challenging, following an increase in health care costs resulting from statewide negotiations and the arbitrator’s decision. Although this is an added mandatory expense, we are proud to be able to offer our hardworking staff the opportunity to provide health insurance for their families.
Due to this added expense, all of our budgets have been tightened to reduce and prioritize spending, while making sure our employees are retained and our facilities are safe. Difficult decisions were made, but all of the budgeted items included in the proposals are necessities to make our schools run.
A question often posed is “how will this impact my taxes?” There multiple factors that go into the education property tax rate calculation, many of them out of our control. The Common Level of Appraisal has decreased for each town within the SVSU. Overall, the same can be said for equalized pupils. Both of these figures are given to us by the State of Vermont.
Despite these challenges, and thanks to the hard cost-cutting work of my office, the finance team and school principals, our two union school district budgets have minimally increased: the SVUESD only by 1.33% and the MAUHSD (without the CDC impact) by just 2.4% from last year.
Our goal is a seamless transition, combining cost cutting with a realistic and modest increase in revenue to support our students and retain valued employees in the coming fiscal year. As always, our top priority is ensuring the safety and education of each of our students, from pre-K to graduation.
James R. Culkeen