School districts across the Washington West Supervisory Union (WWSU) have been visiting and revisiting budget drafts in the past months and the figures continue to waver. The Harwood Union High School (HUHS) board viewed their latest version on January 6 and found that the school was able to reduce spending while keeping educational programs in place.
The draft shows that tax rates for residents will be 0.2 percent less than taxpayers were billed last year, based on the new statewide homestead tax rate that is based on “yield per dollar.” However, this rate is constantly changing in the Legislature and WWSU superintendent Brigid Scheffert Nease said that the supervisory union had recently dealt with three changes in less than a day, which they had to apply to all seven budgets within the WWSU.
At the time of their board meeting, the yield rate was rising, which means that taxes for residents decrease, but WWSU director of finance and operations Michelle Baker said that the number will “likely go down,” and taxes will be increased.
“That’s really a flaw with the system,” said Baker. “I find it very frustrating that boards are trying to make decisions and we’re all working on this for a long time and the data, at the last minute, is still shifting around.”
But even with a 7.9 percent increase in health insurance, a 3.75 percent increase in labor costs, and a 5.9 percent reduction in revenues, HUHS spending for the 2016-2017 year has been reduced by 0.2 percent.
“Some things got lucky for this year,” Scheffert Nease said, “but it will get tougher next year.” Harwood’s enrollment continues to decline, down from 850 to the current finalized figure of 703, and Scheffert Nease called it a “very serious problem across the supervisory union.”
Declining enrollment is problematic because the number of students enrolled determines the amount of funding that a school receives. And since elementary students in The Valley are on track to attend Harwood in the future, when those student populations decline – as with Waitsfield Elementary, which has seen a 5.9 percent decrease in enrollment in the past years – Harwood is affected as well.
Next year, the HUHS budget will be further affected by the Affordable Care Act, an initiative in health care, and “no one understands yet what the ramifications of that will be,” Scheffert Nease said.
But the board will need to grapple with more drafts of the 2016-2017 budget before it can bring its final budget to voters.