CVU board agrees to 1.53 percent budget increase (1/14/10)

Jan. 14, 2010

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

In spite of what many board members described as one of the toughest budget seasons in recent memory, the Champlain Valley Union High School Board approved a $21.35 million budget for the 2010-2011 school year. It’s an increase of 1.53 percent over the current budget.

The vote, taken during the board’s Monday night meeting, was near unanimous for the 11-member board; only Jeff Parker voted against the budget. Parker said he was unsure how voters would react to any increase in the struggling economy.

“I still think we could have trimmed some more,” Parker said.

School Board Chairwoman Jeanne Jensen said many board members wanted more cuts or fewer cuts. The 1.53 percent increase seemed to please most members on either side of the spectrum, she said.

“Hopefully this community, which has been generous in the past, supports us for another year,” Jensen said.

Since the budget process began in late fall, the board struggled with a high budget increase due to changes in transportation and technology assessments. In an effort to keep more accurate records, Chittenden South Supervisory Union changed the way it billed school districts for both services. CVU bore the brunt of the assessment changes within CSSU.

Initially, the board was looking at a 4.75 percent increase over the current school year’s budget. The board asked the administration to find ways to cut from the budget while limiting impacts on student services. In subsequent months, the administration proposed trimming transportation costs, technology equipment upgrades, athletic programs and co-curricular activities. School supplies and professional development expenses also received cuts.

The board also voted to apply $225,000 from the school’s general fund balance — used mainly for emergency purposes — to alleviate likely increases in property taxes. CSSU Chief Operations Officer Bob Mason said taxpayers will see their property tax rates increase by 3.5 percent from CVU’s budget. That number does not include any increases caused by elementary and middle school budgets in CSSU towns.

The 3.5 percent increase is also just a guess, Mason said. The Vermont Legislature will likely not set the tax rate until after Town Meeting Day in March, and Gov. Jim Douglas said during his State of the State address that he wants a lower property tax increase.

“It’s not a bad piece for the community members to understand that the tax rate could vary widely between now and then, and what you decide tonight would have no bearing on that,” Mason told the board.

Board member Jonathan Milne expressed dismay at approving a budget without knowing the outcome of the teacher contract negotiations. CSSU and the Chittenden South Education Association started contract talks this month. Possible salary and benefit increases for teachers, while not yet agreed upon in the new contract, are figured into next year’s budget to give school boards an idea of final numbers.

Milne argued it’s impossible to know the final budget for next school year until contracts are finalized.

“I feel like we’re making decisions without knowing a lot of information,” Milne said.

The board also agreed to buy a mid-sized school bus for $86,000. Mason said the new bus would replace a 16-year-old bus currently in use. The expenditure will appear on ballots as a separate item than the rest of the budget.

Voters will have a chance to weigh in on the $21.35 million CVU school budget, the $225,000 general fund balance transfer and $86,000 bus addition on Town Meeting Day on March 2.