Update on School Budgets - Feb 28, 2023

On Tuesday, the Joint Fiscal Office (JFO) and the Agency of Education (AOE) provided their customary update to the House Ways & Means Committee. Chairwoman Kornheiser shared that she had asked JFO to include a new line item for cloud taxes, which would amount to $16.9M in revenue if added. This addition would result in a 5% increase in average property tax bills if coupled with the additional spending items the Committee is considering.

Representative Austin noted that there was unspent categorical aid for special education services. She wondered where that money came out. JFO pointed her to the reversions line item on the Education Fund Outlook, which was $45.5M.

Representative Branagan noted that the cloud tax bill had not been passed yet. JFO said that was simply a projected of what might come in if the policy was passed. Kornheiser said she asked for that modeling because she was looking for offsetting revenues for universal school meals. She was also frustrated that, under the new model, the average homestead property tax rate goes down, but the income does not. JFO pointed to the changes in grand list values as the reason for that. In actuality their tax liability would change at the same rate.

Brad James (Budget Director, AOE) was up next. He has received all but six districts reporting their budgets now. These districts are quite small, totaling $26M in spending from last year. The latest numbers are a 7.7% increase from last year, which is down from 8.5% that was modeled in the December letter from the Tax Commissioner. Burlington was one of the last big ones to come in. Their bond payments haven’t fully kicked in yet and they held back on new spending initiatives. Representative Ode shared that the Burlington School Board is preparing for the increased taxing capacity they are anticipating under the new weighting formulas.

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