By Stephanie Choate
Williston voters could see something new on the ballot at Town Meeting this year.
The Champlain Valley Union High School budget for fiscal year 2013-2014 is likely to be split into two parts.
The Act 82 two-vote requirement—which took effect in 2009 and was intended to control school budget increases—splits a budget vote if two conditions are met: first, the school’s spending per equalized pupil is higher than the statewide average and, second, the budget exceeds the current fiscal year’s spending, adjusted for inflation, plus 1 percent. A budget that exceeds the adjusted 1 percent increase would require a second vote for the additional expenditures.
The provision sunsets with the 2013-2014 fiscal year.
Bob Mason, Chittenden South Supervisory Union chief operations officer, told the board during its Jan. 7 meeting that many Vermont schools are expected to exceed the single-vote cap this year.
Like school boards across the state, the CVU board is struggling with an increase in its baseline budget, largely due to an assumed 14 percent increase in health care costs and scheduled 3 percent salary increases. CVU’s baseline budget—the amount needed to maintain current services—is projected to increase by 4.31 percent to $22,348,548.
Board reviews options
A divided CVU board spent more than two hours trying to come to an agreement on Monday. The board was split nearly down the middle after CVU Principal Sean McMannon outlined several options.
The first and thinnest option came in at $22,005,261, a 2.7 percent increase over the fiscal year 2012-13 budget of $21,425,188. It would require a single vote and result in an estimated 6.7 percent property tax rate increase for residents. Tax implications will not be finalized, however, until the legislature sets the tax rate.
Option 1 identified approximately $343,000 in cuts from the projected baseline, including the elimination of two para-educator positions and a summer program for struggling sophomores, and $95,000 in cuts that would need to be identified.
Option 2—a 3.6 percent increase from the 2012-2013 budget and approximately $190,000 more than Option 1—included provisions for a three-year plan the board discussed earlier in the year. The option added funds for an instructional coach, a math teacher and a half-time power reading position intended to help students whose reading struggles impact their other courses. It also included fewer as-yet-unidentified cuts.
A third option showed reallocations within the projected baseline budget, which would mean an estimated 8.7 percent property tax increase.
McMannon said he hoped the board would consider some of the added resources he requested.
“I think that the community would support us in being able to procure some of the resources to move our vision forward,” he said. “I think the community has tremendous trust in the board and the administration and the entire school.”
An informal show of hands revealed a 5-5 split between the first two options, with Chairman David Rath’s tiebreaking vote tilting the scales toward Option 2.
Board member Jeanne Jensen said she could not support adding staff in light of CVU’s declining enrollment.
“I think this is way too much of a burden on taxpayers,” she said.
Board member Jonathan Milne said it was hard to stomach a 3.6 percent increase in the current economic climate.
“It’s not a great environment to be bringing significant increases to the voters,” he said.
Member Joan Lenes said that the school is finally reaching the class sizes the board had been trying to reach for years.
“I think we need more than what a single vote will do,” she said.
Chairman David Rath said that the two-vote provision, though potentially confusing, could be a blessing.
“I see the two-vote (provision) as the glass half full, because it gives the voters the ultimate decision,” he said.
Board member Allen Mead—who initially voted for Option 1—said he could be in favor of adding roughly $70,000 to the figure.
Rath ultimately asked the administration to come back with a final proposal between the two options, adding resources costing between $70,000 and $99,000 to Option 1. That would mean a budget between $22,075,261 and $22,104,261.
The board will take a formal vote on the proposed budget at its next meeting, set for Jan. 28 at 5:30 p.m.
Final approval will be up to voters in Williston, Hinesburg, Shelburne and Charlotte on Town Meeting Day on Tuesday, March 5.