Norwich Tax Rate Set to Skyrocket

Norwich, which already has high taxes, is preparing for a 20%-30% tax increase because of pupil weighting in the Dresden school district. Starting in 2024, the increase will be implemented in phases. The legislation behind the increase is Bill S.287, which has passed both the Senate and House and was signed by the Governor in May. So why is Norwich facing this increase? The answer is complex; to understand it we’ll first need to know how pupil weighting works.

But first, some background information on taxes. Property taxes come from homeowners, who pay a certain percentage of their property’s value to the government. The specific tax rate that Norwich will see increase is their local education property tax. Homeowners pay their town this local education property tax, and all of Vermont’s town local education taxes are added together to contribute to the State Education Fund. The State Education Fund then funds all of the school budgets in Vermont.

The tax rate for each town is set by a very simple ratio. I know… math. But to those of you who’ve made it this far, don’t give up now! It’s important to understand this issue because it will impact the entire Dresden community. The equation that determines Vermont tax rates is as follows:Screen Shot 2022-11-21 at 7.17.02 PM

The two factors are the school budget, and the amount of equalized pupils in the school. The school budget, decided by a town vote, includes teacher salaries and other costs needed to run the school. The equalized pupil amount is where pupil weighting comes into play.

What is pupil weighting? To find the answer, I consulted Neil Odell, a member of the Norwich and Dresden School Boards and president of the Vermont School Boards Association. Mr. Odell explains that the equalized pupil amounts come from pupil weights. When counting students in a school, weights are applied to certain categories, such as English language learners, poverty, or small, rural schools. The state tallies them, with weighted pupils having higher values, resulting in the equalized pupil count. The more pupil weights, the higher the amount of equalized pupils. And in the above equation (school budget divided by equalized pupils) a higher number of equalized pupils results in a lower tax rate. Vermont also equalizes their tax rates, so that “if two towns have the same per-pupil spending they will have the same tax rates” (Odell). This means that a town with a high budget and lots of equalized pupils could have the same tax rate as a town with a proportionately lower budget and lower number of equalized pupils.

Norwich’s tax rate has always been dependent on this ratio. So why are tax rates rising now? In 2019, a new Vermont Pupil Weighting Study found that the weighting factors used for decades were faulty; they weren’t scientifically backed by how much it costs to educate students. The study recommends new weights that would accurately account for the costs for students in the categories above. The Vermont bill, S.287, enacts the proposals from the weighting study. Under the new weights, Norwich has a much lower equalized pupil count than before. And since, in Norwich’s tax equation, the school budget numerator is the same but the denominator is smaller, the resulting tax rate is higher. This new bill will make the tax rate rise drastically – up to 30%.

Odell explains there are two ways to counter the raise. The numerator of the fraction (the budget) could decrease, or the denominator (equalized pupils) could increase. However, Odell states, “I don’t think we can cut enough out of the budgets to bring that tax rate increase down very much”. The other option would be to increase the amount of equalized pupils by having more English language-learners or building more
low-income housing. Those would be long-term solutions; as for the short-term “we’re a little bit
stuck” (Odell).

Norwich will see this increase start in 2024, and it could potentially change the community by determining who can afford to move into Norwich in the future. “If we make it more and more expensive to live in Norwich the people who are able to do so, that amount of folks, just keeps shrinking and [we’re] only attracting the folks who can actually afford… the property taxes” (Odell). This could alter Norwich as a community, and works against long-term solutions for lowering the tax rate. And the implications of the pupil weighing study reach beyond Norwich. The equalized pupil count accounts for MCS, RMS, and HHS,
and highlights a lack of diversity in the entire school district.

HHS community members can take action by writing to the Vermont legislature to share their concerns. For additional information on the topic, go to the Dresden School Board website:

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