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CVU baseline budget increase ‘within reason’

By Stephanie Choate
Observer staff
The Champlain Valley Union High School Board began delving into its 2015-16 budget this week. While the baseline budget is projected to increase, the jump is not as high as in previous years.
“It’s within reason, particularly since (increases to) salary and benefits are included in there,” said Bob Mason, chief operations officer for Chittenden South Supervisory Union, of the predicted increase to net education spending. In the 2015-2016 school year, salaries are contractually set to increase by 3.25 percent, and health care benefits by between 5 and 10 percent.
The board held its first budget meeting Dec. 1, getting a look at the figures.
Like the budget presented to the Williston School Board last week, some of the budget categories have shifted, making it a little more difficult to follow trends.
Special education funding and revenue have been consolidated at the Chittenden South Supervisory Union level. Costs are then allocated to schools. That means revenue also goes to the supervisory union, leaving CVU with nearly $875,000 less in revenue than in the previous fiscal year.
The board saw a 1.31 percent drop in the baseline budget estimate—the amount required to open the school in 2015 without significant staffing or program changes. But with revenue down 20 percent, net education spending is set to increase by nearly $579,000. That’s a 2.6 percent jump, Mason said.
While the projected increase is smaller than in previous years, boards are beginning their budget work during a time of growing frustration with ever-increasing property taxes. Several towns, including Shelburne, have passed a resolution supporting capping total education property taxes at the fiscal year 2015 level for two years while the legislature works on comprehensive reform. Williston has expressed support for a resolution, but is still tweaking its version.
On Monday, Gov. Peter Shumlin, Tax Commissioner Mary Peterson, Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe and others addressed education spending and property taxes.
According to Peterson’s annual report to the Legislature, school spending is projected to increase by 3.09 percent for fiscal year 16, requiring a 2-cent increase in both the residential and non-residential statewide property tax rates.
“Getting public education right by improving the quality of education for all of our kids, while finding ways to reduce overall school spending is incredibly important,” Gov. Shumlin said. “While this year’s projected increase is half of last year’s, that’s no comfort for Vermonters who have seen rising property taxes year after year. Addressing education spending while improving our good public education system is a complex problem that is much broader than rising property taxes.”
In addition to property taxes, education is funded by General Fund revenue, income tax, sales tax, vehicle purchase and use tax and lottery proceeds.
The CVU board will begin the work of crafting the budget at its next meeting, set for Dec. 15.