CVU Board rejects Challenges for Change budget

Dec. 16, 2010

By Tim Simard
Observer staff

The Champlain Valley Union High School Board voted unanimously on Monday to not cut its budget based on a suggestion by the state Legislature’s Challenges for Change campaign. The board would need to eliminate $720,000 from the baseline budget to meet the challenge — a figure that board members said would be far too drastic for CVU.

Instead, the board agreed to look at level funding the school’s 2011-2012 budget to match this year’s $21.35 million budget.

“If we do that, we have a good chance of maintaining a good, quality program,” board member David Rath said.

The CVU Board said in previous meetings that finding a budget that upholds services while remaining acceptable to the public has become increasingly difficult in regards to uncertain economic and state pressures.

The Vermont Legislature’s Challenges for Change bill, passed in the spring, strongly urges school districts to cut net spending by 2 percent with a goal of minimizing tax increases. The bill asked the state’s education commission to identify $23.5 million to cut from school budgets statewide; the education commissioner in turn gave reduction goals to each school and supervisory union. CVU’s reduction goal came in at approximately $720,000.

The CVU board must also consider the unresolved teacher contract dispute (see story on page 17). CVU Principal Sean McMannon likened this year’s budget challenges to “working on an airplane while it’s in the air.”

“This really is our first experience with significant reductions,” McMannon said.

The CVU School Board is not the only one in Chittenden South Supervisory Union to reject the state’s Challenges for Change recommendations, according to CSSU Superintendent Elaine Pinckney. Charlotte and Williston indicated they will not meet the challenge, while Hinesburg and Shelburne plan to heed the suggested cuts, Pinckney said.

Where cuts could come

Last month, the CVU Board learned its 2011-2012 baseline budget — the cost of current services if they are carried into the following year — would see a 1.04 percent increase over the current budget. Next year’s school budget would then be $21.57 million.

During Monday’s meeting, McMannon explained how certain budget cuts would affect the high school. To cut the $720,000 necessary to meet the Challenges for Change, the school would need to scratch a number of support positions. Music, world languages, art and driver’s education were among the many departments lined up for possible reductions in hours or outright layoffs. Other positions facing cuts include support professionals in the learning center, library and special education department.

Athletics, school supplies and other equipment would also see “problematic” cutbacks to meet the Challenges for Change, McMannon said.

“This dramatically decreases how we can serve our kids,” McMannon said.

If the School Board agrees to level fund the 2011-2012 budget, roughly $220,000 would be cut from the baseline. McMannon said there would still be some reductions in staff, albeit minor ones compared to the cuts proposed under Challenges for Change. The school may need to reduce a paraprofessional position and decrease the number of days some administrators work per year. Athletics, school supplies and professional training would also require reductions.

“I believe this is something we’d be able to live with,” board member Jeff Parker said in regards to level funding the budget.

Some board members believed the board should consider further reductions from a level-funded budget, but not cuts that would meet the $720,000 required for Challenges for Change. Board Chairwoman Jeanne Jensen suggested “meeting in the middle.”

“I feel we need to dip into this, but I just don’t know how deep the board will want to dip,” Jensen said.

She asked McMannon to prepare a presentation prioritizing reductions beyond what’s needed for level funding.

The CVU School Board is scheduled to meet at the high school for another budget meeting on Jan. 3.