The Mountain Times

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Pittsfield ponders school problems

PITTSFIELD-How does a town with no school have such a high property tax rate?

That's what Pittsfield residents have been asking themselves since they learned that the homestead tax rate was rising from $1.56 to $1.97, which works out to $410 ($1,970 a year) on a home valued at $100,000. Pittsfield voters at town meeting rejected the proposed school budget of $1.2 million, which is about $157,000 more than the prior year.

Pittsfield school board chairwoman Kristin Sperber said that's due to a combination of state rates and tuition costs for nearby schools. Pittsfield's students are all sent to schools in neighboring towns.

"We pay tuition for all our kids," she said. "We send quite a few to Killington. We use formulas from the state, and we're assessed on per-pupil costs. We spend more per pupil, so for every dollar over the threshold, we have to raise two dollars."

The threshold for Pittsfield is $14,400 per pupil, Sperber said, which means the town has to come up with an extra $2,845, or  $17,245. The state formula essentially penalizes towns like Pittsfield, which has seen its student population growing. The town has 72 pupils, but under the state formula the number is 68.62. About 26 cents of the tax rate hike reflects this.

"Even without the penalty, we'd see a 16-cent jump," Sperber said.

Officials have been working with state Sen. Kevin Mullen (R-Rutland) to see what can be done. Mullen is chairman of the Senate education committee.

"I'm having some financial guys at the Department of Education look at it to see what we can do," Mullen said. "The problem is that they tuition their students and the schools they attend spend more. The Legislature can't help much."

Sperber said the school board let it be known that rejecting the school budget would buy a little more time. Once a town rejects a school budget, it has until the end of the fiscal year (June 30) to come up with a new one.

"We have two goals," Sperber said. "To solve the short-term problems, and see what else we can do."

There are several options to explore. The town could establish its own school, see if things would be any better in a different supervisory union, send all its pupils to the same school, or just drop out of the supervisory union.

A large portion of the town's taxes goes to support the supervisory union. Pittsfield currently belongs to the Windsor Northwest Supervisory Union, which is based in Pittsfield.

Eventually, a special town meeting will have to be held on the issue.

"Since we do things at a town meeting, it won't cost very much," Sperber said. "If we had an Australian ballot, we'd have to go through scheduling an election and having ballots printed. At a meeting, all we have to do is show up and vote. But whatever we do, we have to arrive at it as a community."

No date has been set for a special town meeting.

Tagged: Pittsfield, Pittsfield school