After two months of hashing out details, the Lamoille South school district last week adopted a modest budget proposal for next year. Voters will determine the rest.

The proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 calls for $32.89 million in spending. That’s an increase of 1.89 percent over the current year, or an extra $611,000.

Voting on the budget will take place on March 2, Town Meeting Day in Elmore, Morristown and Stowe. Everything is done this year via Australian ballot. All three towns will also elect two new school board representatives.

Other than salaries and benefits — which have contracted increases — the budget is generally level-funded, according to school district operations manager Andy Lundeen.

There will be five fewer full-time staff positions next year, mostly in special education.

As far as the actual nuts and bolts of the budget, there are also numerous infrastructure projects at Morristown and Stowe schools that will cost about $700,000. Those are:

• Morristown Elementary School: replacing a main exterior water line for $25,000; continued work on heating, ventilation and air conditioning upgrades for $150,000.

• Peoples Academy: repaving the front parking area for $125,000; re-finishing the gym floor for $50,000; a lease payment of $81,000 on the wood pellet system.

• Stowe Elementary School: continued work to its HVAC system upgrades for $125,000.

• Stowe Middle/High School: refurbish exterior siding for $50,000; replacing the main electrical switch gear for $90,000.

Taxing times

In order to keep costs down, the district took $1.1 million from its uncommitted general fund and applied it as revenue to next year’s budget. That nearly halved the amount left in that fund, just over $1.5 million for future rainy days.

There is not a direct correlation between lean budgeting and low taxes, though.

For one, a predicted slightly lower school population — about 30 fewer students than this year — will lead to slightly higher per-student costs — about $700 more.

The real impact to the tax rate, though, will be the continuing downward trend in the three towns’ common level of appraisal. That measure is the gap between a town’s total value of appraised property and what the state determines that number should be, based on three-year sales data.

If a town’s common level of appraisal is less than 100 percent, it means the state thinks a town has undervalued its property. Anything over 100 percent suggests assessed property values are inflated by a town.

All three towns saw dips in their levels, a trend that tends to bump education tax rates up.

Stowe got hit hardest with that tax increase in the current year, and it will get hit hard again next year, with an increase of 18 cents per $100 of property value.

Morristown’s increase will be higher, jumping an estimated 19.2 cents. Elmore, which had a relative tax hike reprieve this year, will see an 11.6 cent increase next year. Non-resident property owners will pay slightly more than residents.

Elections

The Lamoille South board will feature two new representatives after the annual meeting, regardless of how elections go.

Longtime incumbent Stephanie Craig, of Morristown, is not running for another term. Nor is incumbent Norm Williams, a representative from Stowe. All Lamoille South terms are for three years, and are staggered so all seven seats don’t open up at once.

Running against each other to replace Craig are Morristown residents Saudia LaMont and David McAllister. McAllister is a former school board member for the district; LaMont would be a newcomer to the board.

The sole candidate for Williams’s open Stowe seat is Alan Ouellette, a frequent board meeting attendee over the past few years.

Craig’s tenure on the board dates back before the merged Lamoille South school district first formed in July 2019. She was previously the chair of the merged Elmore-Morristown school district, and before that, the chair of the standalone Morristown school district.

Williams was first appointed in 2019 after two Stowe board representatives abruptly quit within two weeks of each other, shortly after a federal jury ruled that Wrend had retaliated against a former Peoples Academy teacher who she fired, and a majority of the school board supported Wrend.

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