Dec. 10, 2009
By Tim Simard
Champlain Valley Union High School could experience significant cuts next year in an effort to keep budget increases at a minimum.
At their meeting Monday, School Board members looked at administration proposals to curb the increase in the 2010-2011 school budget. Depending on what the board decides, there could be considerable reductions at CVU.
“It’s all going to impact programs when you talk about cuts,” Principal Sean McMannon said.
He outlined several different spending levels, telling the board how programs and services at CVU could take a hit depending on the size of the budget. If CVU opened its doors next school year with the same services as this year, the baseline budget proposal of $22.03 million would represent a 4.75 percent increase over this year’s budget. Board members had asked McMannon to determine options for budget cuts at their last meeting two weeks ago.
The board cited at its last budget meeting two reasons why it wanted to see the budget reduced: the difficult economic climate and its effects on taxpayers, and the two-vote requirement in accordance with Act 82.
Enacted by the Vermont Legislature last year as a way to control school budget increases, Act 82 essentially works as a spending cap. If a district’s budget increase exceeds a certain percentage determined by the state, then a second vote is required to approve the additional spending. The percentage is expected to be announced next week.
The School Board also briefly discussed tax rate implications Monday, hinting it might decide to dip into CVU’s reserve fund as a way to offset tax increases. The board made a similar move with this year’s budget, taking $70,000 from the reserve fund to avoid a tax increase. Board Chairwoman Jeanne Jensen said the board would wait to make a decision until its next meeting, when it will receive revenue numbers from Bob Mason, Chittenden South Supervisory Union’s chief operations officer.
Before discussing the potential cuts, McMannon reiterated to board members how important CVU’s programs and school climate is to the success of students. He said cutting programs and services could result in reduced opportunities for students. The principal also said he’s recently had difficult discussions with school staff about the budget.
“I’ve spent the last week and a half talking to teachers, telling them they might not have a piece of their position next year,” McMannon said.
By reducing next year’s baseline budget by $407,000 — which would represent a 2.81 percent increase — the school would avoid the two-vote requirement, McMannon told board members. But the cuts would eliminate a special education position and reduce supply, transportation and professional development expenses. Technology equipment replacements, typically done on a three-year cycle, would be extended for another year, McMannon added.
More cuts, allowing for a budget increase of 1.73 percent, would further decrease services, including some athletics and co-curricular activities. Also, there would be major changes in transportation services.
“We would be fundamentally changing the way we get kids to and from school each day,” McMannon said.
Reducing bus routes and creating more express busing would need consideration, as would changes in special education transportation, McMannon and Mason told the board.
Jensen wondered if there could be even more transportation cuts. She pointed out that changes in transportation assessments across CSSU account for nearly $1 million in the CVU budget.
“I’m still astonished by this increase,” Jensen said. “I’d rather take money out of transportation than professional development.”
Board members seemed to agree that a 1.73 percent increase might be acceptable to voters come Town Meeting Day in March. A smaller budget increase could mean “irreparable harm” to CVU’s programs, McMannon said.
For instance, a classroom teacher position would have to be cut and other support staff roles reduced. McMannon said he has so far received no indications of upcoming retirements at the high school; retirements would allow the school to hire teachers at a lower salary.
Board member David Rath said he was reticent to make deep cuts in programs, but also said the board needed to come up with better budgeting plans for the future.
“Right now, we’re taking pieces of our program apart in a piecemeal fashion,” Rath said.
Jeff Parker, another board member, said he believed it was possible to reduce the budget to a 1 percent increase, but in a different way than what McMannon outlined.
“I’m not convinced this is the way we can do it,” Parker said. “There should be a way of not reducing our programs to below our standards.”
The next budget meeting for the CVU School Board is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 21 in Room 142 at the high school.