FAQs and Legislative Contacts

If we had a 0% tax increase, what would happen to Burlington’s schools?

The tax rate is too high. Who should I contact to get it reduced?

No really, our education financing system is broken.

How are schools in Burlington financed, anyway?

How are my property taxes calculated? Tell me the nitty gritty.

If we had a 0% tax increase, what would happen to Burlington’s schools?

BSD would need to cut millions from our just-approved FY19 budget. This amount could only come from staff reductions in all schools. While the administration has made some reductions in this year’s budget where possible, a 0% tax increase would devastate our schools.

The tax rate is too high. Who should I contact to get it reduced?

The state is estimating that the base tax rate this year will be 7%.  This amount is usually finalized in June by the state legislature. We encourage you to contact your legislators and push for a lower increase.

Please share your concerns with:

  • Your state senators and representative: Tim Ashe (also President Pro Tempore of the Senate), Michael Sirotkin, Ginny Lyons, Chris Pearson, Debbie Ingram, and Philip Baruth (who also chairs the education committee) are the senators representing Chittenden County. You can find your state representative here.
    • The senators’ emails for easy copy and pasting: tashe@leg.state.vt.usmsirotkin@leg.state.vt.usvlyons@leg.state.vt.us,
    • Via phone: Call The Sergeant at Arms Office at the Vermont Legislature at 1-802-828-2228 or 1-800-322-5616 and leave a message asking your legislators to call you. Here is where number of calls received matter. Each one will prompt a legislative page to bring a note to the legislator. Of course, when you do receive a call, be prepared to have a dialogue about what freezing the budget, greater contributions for health insurance, voting on May etc will do for you and your school.
  • Governor Scott: Email or by phone at 802-828-3333.
  • Extra Credit:

No really, our education financing system is broken.

There are a number of efforts underway to try to alleviate some of the pressures our education financing system is putting on taxpayers. They include:

  • H.795 -An act relating to the use of funds by school districts and municipalities. Sponsored by a number of Burlington legislators, this contains a change to 16 V.S.A. §4029 that would give communities like Burlington some additional flexibility to use municipal resources for non-educational items currently funded in school budgets. If this passed, it could give us legal access to recoup some of the $1.4 million in PILOT funds that used to come to the schools but no longer does following a ruling by the Agency of Education.
  • H.873 An act relating to amending the excess spending calculation. If passed, H.873 would exclude school capital construction and debt service from excess spending calculation. This could be extremely helpful to Burlington as the district begins major capital spending on our schools.
  • There are other pieces of legislation emerging in the House Ways & Means committee that could change the way education tax is raised in Vermont.

If you would like to weigh in on any of these initiatives, please contact your legislators. 

How are schools in Burlington financed, anyway?

Our schools are funded through:

  • Local Sources. These do not include your property or income taxes, but instead are made of funds from private sources like grants (which are declining), rental fees, and funding from City of Burlington (last year, the Vermont Agency of Education put limits on what types of City funding can support the District, so this source is also decreasing .)
  • Federal Sources. The federal government gives us grants for mandated programs under Title I, Title II, IDEA B, for No Child Left Behind, kids from families living in poverty, and kids with learning disabilities. These have been decreasing every year for over a decade and were reduced by $200,000 for this year. We expect the reductions to continue in future years.
  • The State of Vermont Education Fund, which is made up of
    • Funds from the state General Fund and the state lottery (about 33%, down from 40% previously)
    • Non-residential property taxes (about 40%)
    • Homestead taxes (about 27%) that you pay based on property or income (renters pay through their rent).

Property taxes used to account for 61% of the Education Fund’s revenue sources. Today they account for 67%.

How are my property taxes calculated? Tell me the nitty gritty.

Education taxes are based on our spending per equalized pupil.

What’s an “equalized pupil”?  The number of students each community has is weighted to account for additional services needed to education some students, such as those students living in poverty, who need special education, who are english language learners, or who are in high school (secondary students cost more to educate). In other words, the number of equalized pupils Burlington has is larger than the number of actual students, because the count is weighted this way.

The state legislature sets a base amount and accompanying tax rate per equalized pupil. Local communities then decide how much they want to spend per equalized pupil above that, if anything, which might add to the tax rate.  This rate is then applied to your property taxes or your income, depending on which method of taxation you choose.  

But because the property tax is based the value of your house, and cities and towns do not conduct appraisals every year, a common level of appraisal is used to estimate the current market value of your house, increasing it by a set percentage. This amount is also built in to the tax rate.

In recent years, the legislature has set the base tax rate after town meeting day, when towns vote on their education budgets, which has made it difficult to estimate the impact of budget increases.  This year the base tax rate is estimated at 7%,  but could very well be lowered by the end of the legislative season in June. 

If you would like more detail on how our education taxes are calculated, see this FAQ on the Vermont Department of Taxes website.

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