HUUSD: Board unanimously approves budget

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By members of the HUUSD Board

The Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) Board of Directors unanimously approved its proposed 2018-2019 school budget. It is the result of months of hard work by our administrative team and represents the transition from seven school districts with seven budgets to one school district with one budget that funds all our schools and the central office.

Budget work for FY 2019 began in winter 2017, soon after the current year’s budget was passed. As the board learned more about our schools and their many differences, we agreed there needed to be a focus on achieving equity among our schools, especially in such areas as foreign language and preschool programming and maintaining quality. Given that directive, the administrative team collaborated on proposals that were presented to the HUUSD Board in spring of 2017. The result was the addition of foreign language at Thatcher Brook Primary School and pre-K programming that is more consistent across the district in terms of available hours and accessibility. This directive has been implemented in other less expansive ways, but ones which help ensure that all our students will receive an education of equal quality no matter which school they attend.

The changes resulted in a relatively stable budget. Staffing numbers across the district remain almost constant from the previous year. After accounting for a 3 percent negotiated salary increase and a 10 percent health insurance premium increase from FY 2018, general fund budgeted expenditures increased by 2.4 percent to $37,183,150. Per pupil spending increased 2.1 percent to $17,137.

This year is the second year in which the incentives made available by our Act 46 accelerated merger will be applied to our equalized tax rate, resulting in a decrease of $0.08. The Act 46 Study Committee Report Appendix projected an FY 2019 equalized tax rate of $1.63. Based on the education tax yield, which was set in December, our preliminary FY 2019 equalized tax rate is estimated to be $1.66 in each of our six towns. (Each town’s final tax rate will be impacted by its Common Level of Appraisal.) It is worth noting that this budget meets all of Governor Scott’s suggestions for limiting expenditure growth and education tax rate increases. Also, had some of our Act 46 incentives not been reversed by the Legislature, increases in the tax rate would have been capped at 5 percent, thus resulting in an equalized tax rate of $1.63. At the time of this writing, the statewide education tax rate was predicted to be $0.02 less than expected, which would result in a tax rate of $1.64. Possible increases in the yield or proposed changes to the education funding law could reduce the equalized tax rate even further.

A second question on the ballot considers moving $533,960 into our HUUSD maintenance reserve fund from FY 2017 budget surpluses. These surpluses are the result of quality oversight and careful spending throughout past budget years. Adding to the maintenance fund will better enable us to maintain and improve our infrastructure in future years. Considering the needs likely to arise over our seven campuses the board agreed this was a responsible decision that will benefit our schools, students and taxpayers in years to come.

It is our hope that you will join us in supporting the FY 2019 school budget and vote yes on both budget questions on Town Meeting Day. Your support will allow us to continue to provide a high-quality education to all our students.

Board members include Christine Sullivan, Waitsfield; Gabe Gilman, Moretown; Alycia Biondo, Warren; Tom Cahalan, Duxbury; Jill Ellis, Fayston; Caitlin Hollister, Waterbury; Peter Langella, Moretown; Garett MacCurtain, Duxbury; Maureen McCracken, Waterbury; Melissa Phillips, Waterbury; Alexandra Thomsen, Waterbury; Lorraine Wargo, Fayston; Rosemarie White, Warren; and Rob Williams, Waitsfield.