June 13, 2024

HSD FY 25 Budget Communication

February 13, 2024

Good Evening, Hartford!

You may have heard that the State of Vermont has changed the way it funds public education this year. Last year Vermont passed Act 127, which made the distribution of state education funding more equitable. Given that the new law, in its implementation year, might cause an artificial spike in state funding to some towns, a 5% cap on new spending was added to protect taxpayers. This year, when the state received an estimate of the costs of proposed school district budgets for the 24-25 school year, they quickly realized that they underestimated the cost of Act 127 and that they could not afford to support the 5% cap. Last week, the House Ways and Means committee drafted a bill to repeal the funding cap and "give districts an opportunity to rescind their budgets and delay their town meetings while they revise and adopt a new budget that addresses the decreased state funding."

The impact of the elimination of the funding cap and the drop in our CLA (Common Level of Appraisal) on Hartford taxpayers from the proposed budget resulted in an increase of 38.9% on the homestead tax. The CLA is calculated by reviewing three years of home sales data. It is a tool meant to ensure that each town is contributing its fair share to Vermont's education fund.

If a town's CLA is below 100 percent, that means homes are assessed at less than their actual value, therefore property tax rates are increased to reflect the difference. Hartford has not had a re-appraisal in several years, resulting in properties that are significantly undervalued at 66% of the state's equalized education grand list.

We acknowledge that this 38.9% increase is not reasonable nor an increase the school board or superintendent can support. In an emergency school board meeting last week, the School Board directed me to prepare a revised budget that represents a 18.5% increase on the homestead tax. Given what is currently known about the state revenue sources, reductions of $3.5M to $5M will be necessary to reach the board's directive. Obviously, this has the potential to have a huge impact on our community, and I refuse to rush to propose a solution that does not reflect our priorities as a district.

Today, I invited the Administrative Council to assist me in beginning a thoughtful and thorough process of considering the district's budget, given the school board's direction. We are aware that this situation will create uncertainty for everyone, and we are committed to working diligently to develop a budget that gets as close as possible to the board's directed goal of no more than an 18.5 % increase on new spending, without compromising our district vision and ENDS policies. This process will take some time, thought, reflection, and intentionality, so at this point we are not ready to determine which specific programs the reductions will impact.

Tomorrow, the school board will discuss the current funding situation and be presented with the most up to date information regarding the changes and the proposed new legislation. They will need to decide how to proceed with rescinding the current budget proposal and how best to prepare for a new budget proposal. Rest assured we will all do our best to make the impact as minimal as possible while maintaining the quality we are accustomed to and that our students deserve.

Thank you for your attention to this matter, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts and concerns as we move forward.

Tom DeBalsi
Superintendent of Schools