April 24, 2014

School boards dive into budget talks

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By Stephanie Choate

Observer staff

November 21st, 2013

Most Williston residents look at this time of year as the beginning of the holiday season, but town and school boards and staff know it as something slightly different: budget season.

District school boards began delving into their budgets recently, getting their first looks at baseline budget numbers—the amounts required to offer the same services and programs as last year. Bob Mason, chief operations officer for Chittenden South Supervisory Union, said many of the figures are still estimates. Figures will be firmer in January, when revenue amounts and state tax implications become clearer.

The Williston School District Board began the 2014-15 budget process on Nov. 14. On Nov. 21, it is set to look at special education programming, technology and instructional programming.

The board was faced with a 2.56 percent projected increase to the baseline budget—less than last year’s baseline increase of 4.18 percent. That works out to an increase of $441,729, bringing the baseline budget to an estimate of $17,695,368.

The school is currently operating on a $17,253,639 budget.

The biggest increase came from salaries and benefits, including health insurance—$419,102. The increase an estimate—Mason noted that contracts are still under negotiation. The board was also faced with a $40,411 increase to CSSU assessments, a $75,601 increase in tuition costs, a $16,189 jump in electricity fees and a $22,952 increase in principal bond payments.

The board did see some decreases, including a $30,967 drop in transportation costs, a $39,910 savings in natural gas and an $11,237 decrease in interest payments.

One of the major challenges this year is enrollment, Williston School District Principal Walter Nardelli said.

“We have a declining student population,” Nardelli said. “So, (we will be) looking at that, and how does that affect our staffing?”

Nardelli said one of his goals this year is to focus on student groups who need help, though he said Williston Central is one of the few schools recognized by the state as making progress to close the achievement gap.

“One of things we always look at is improving school on a regular basis,” Nardelli said, referencing the oft-quoted adage that you can’t keep doing the same thing and expect different results.

The Champlain Valley Union High School Board met Nov. 18 to begin tackling the 2014-15 budget.

“It’s far too early to articulate specific goals, but the general goal is to put together a budget that maintains the excellent programs that CVU has at a reasonable cost for our communities,” said Board Chairman David Rath.

The board looked at a 3.56 percent increase—representing $783,507—to the baseline budget. The increase leaves the 2014-2014 baseline budget at $22.8 million.

CVU is currently operating on a 2013-14 budget of $22,038,941.

The largest chunk of the increase came from increases to salaries and benefits—$464,233. Like in Williston, the figure is based on an estimate. Other increases included:

$20,450 in CSSU assessments.

$35,423 in “other professional services”

$44,662 in transportation and student travel, $247,381 in tuition and $38,973 in Tech Center tuition

$32,222 in principal bond payments

The baseline budget included some decreases, most notably a drop of $25,064 in fuel oil, a $8,354 drop in supplies and a $49,984 decrease in interest payments.

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