Board makes cuts in CVU budget (12/23/09)

Taxes likely to increase

Dec. 23, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

The Champlain Valley Union High School Board agreed Monday to reduce the school’s proposed budget by more than $600,000, ensuring several services — including transportation and the school’s learning center — will see substantial cuts next year.

The board expressed support for a 1.75 percent increase over the current budget, bringing next year’s proposed CVU budget to $21.39 million. The board may agree to a smaller increase next month depending on further cuts the administration may propose.

“It’s taken a good, considerable effort to get to that number,” board chairwoman Jeanne Jensen said.

While the budget increase is less than originally presented, property taxes will likely climb next year. Chittenden South Supervisory Union Chief Operations Officer Bob Mason said the Vermont Tax Commissioner’s estimate for the state property tax rate, which funds education, for next year is a 2.5 percent increase over the current rate. The proposed increase in the CVU budget would add to the tax rate percentage, he said.

Mason told the board the tax rate is not set in stone, as it will not be voted on by the state Legislature until early next year.

To alleviate the tax rate, the board is considering allocating money from the school’s reserve fund, typically used for emergency purposes. The board will have more than $500,000 in the reserve fund beginning next year, and members discussed using $225,000 of that to minimize the tax increase.

If the board agrees to use money from the reserve fund, the property tax rate increase would be roughly 3.5 percent when combined with the state’s estimates. According to Mason, taxes on a $200,000 home would increase by $84.

That number does not include any tax increases from the Williston School District budget or final numbers from the Common Level of Appraisal, an equation used by the state to equalize the values of homes across Vermont for school funding purposes. Mason said after the CVU School Board meeting that it’s safe to say the increase will continue to climb.

Board members said they were disappointed to hear about the property tax increase and the cuts necessary to minimize that increase. CVU’s baseline budget — the cost of opening the doors next year if no services are added — was nearly a 4 percent increase due to a number of factors. New transportation and technology assessment values at the CSSU level hit the high school particularly hard, adding more than $1 million in expenses.

“I do feel we got hammered this year,” Jensen said of the assessment changes.

Principal Sean McMannon has proposed a number of cuts at the high school. They include cuts in transportation, a one-year extension for replacements of technology equipment and reductions in the school’s learning center. Athletics and co-curricular activities will also see reductions. McMannon warned the board Monday that any further cuts could negatively affect essential services.

But the board asked McMannon to look for $50,000 more in cuts to alleviate the tax increase. He plans to present more information next month.


Board members react

Board member Jeff Parker said he was torn looking at the proposed cuts in services at CVU and the property tax increase.

“I really don’t know if I can sell (the budget),” Parker said. “But I can’t sell shorting the kids.”

Joan Lenes, another board member, said she believed voters would support a higher budget increase than 1.75 percent. Even though it’s been a tough year for many citizens, she said CVU is a stabilizing force for many.

“This school is the soul of the community in many ways,” Lenes said.

Board member Mike Bissonette, on the other hand, supported additional cuts. High numbers of unemployment and high taxes are hitting residents particularly hard this year, he said.

“We need to try to give our taxpayers a break,” Bissonette said.

The CVU School Board is set to vote next month on the final budget that will be brought to voters in March. The board’s next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 11 at CVU.