SWANTON – Voters in Swanton, Highgate and Franklin won’t see any major changes in school taxes this year compared to 2022.
Highlights of Missisquoi Valley School District’s $44,983,567 budget include better teacher benefits, specialized learning services and a new roof for MVU high school.
On a homestead in Swanton valued at $200,000, there will be an estimated increase of $156 in taxes, from $2,607.20 in FY23 to $2,763.20 in FY24.
In Highgate and Franklin, the estimated increases will be around $230.
Across the district, this is an increase of $0.0032 in the tax rate.
MVSD business manager Lora McAllister said the district was able to keep the increase low by being very careful with where money is spent, including COVID-19 relief money and revenue.
Post-COVID, McAllister said temporary positions or programs that only existed because of the pandemic are being eliminated or reevaluated.
“If a social worker at the high school is more important than some other service we provide and that’s what we think is right, we’ll be making those tough decisions as we move forward,” McAllister said.
MVSD is moving more funds into psychological services, speech and audiology, occupational and physical therapy, and behavior management.
MVSD superintendent Julie Regimbal said post-pandemic, specialized services are a necessity in schools, and staffing has always been a problem. By offering competitive pay and benefits, MVSD has been able to retain staff in a district that has historically had frequent openings.
73% of the total budget is going to salaries and benefits. Regimbal said this is the first year of the new negotiated agreement with staff, so the district hasn't seen it fully reduce staff turnover yet, but it has made filling open positions easier.
“It’s really hard when you go and see that McDonald’s or [a gas station] pays more money,” Regimbal said. “It’s a difficult and rewarding job to be a paraeducator or to be a custodian in a school, but it is disheartening when you can make more money pouring coffee somewhere.”
Regimbal said the school board worked to offer better benefits and pay to staff, and it’s been successful in filling positions and keeping them filled in 2022.
“We’ve worked very hard to make our least well-paying positions in the school district marketable and closer to what they should be making,” Regimbal said.
A big-ticket change on the MVSD budget is a $1 million increase going into the construction and renovations budget, from an approved FY23 budget of $435,000 to $1,535,000 in FY24.
The focus of the funding is the replacement of the Missisquoi Valley Union roof, first put on the school in 1969.
MVU first opened in 1970, and Regimbal said the foam material the current roof is made out of isn’t manufactured anymore. The project is slated to take a few years to complete, as the roof must be redone in sections to form a modern standing seam roof.
Phase one of the project happened in the summer of 2022, and the second phase of the project is expected to be completed in the summer of 2023.
“There’s more to it than just a regular roof replacement, so it made sense to the board to do it in phases, one section at a time and build that in the budget,” Regimbal said.
MVSD voters will also be asked to vote on the positions of moderator, treasurer and clerk, along with school directors for the board. One is needed from Franklin, one from Swanton and two from Highgate.
No positions are contested pending write-in campaigns, with Nola Gilbert on track for treasurer, Georgette Roddy set for clerk, Joanna Johnston set for the Franklin director and Renick Darnell-Martin seeking to finish his 3-year term in Highgate.
For moderator, Swanton and the second Highgate positions, nobody filed to run and as such they will be left to write-in candidates.
If no write-in candidate is chosen, the school board shall conduct interviews and choose the best candidate from those that express interest after the budget is voted on.
An informational meeting will be held at the Missisquoi Valley Union High School library, and via Zoom, at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 28.
Zoom information will be posted online on the MVSD website, www.mvsdschools.org, and on MVSD social media platforms.
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