CVU Board looks to minimize budget increase1/15/09

Jan. 15, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

Like many of its counterparts across the state, the Champlain Valley Union High School Board has been wrestling with ways to keep budget increases small while still maintaining quality.

The CVU School Board spent Monday evening discussing ways to keep costs down, even while funding auditorium renovations, and possibly adding certain positions within the school.

While the board did not take an official vote, it did agree to a 0.98 percent increase in the school’s 2009-2010 budget over the previous year. The total budget would be around $20.91 million. The board will give its final approval in two weeks.

Auditorium funding

Much of the budget meeting was spent discussing how the auditorium could be funded — through construction funds on hand and monies raised through private donations.

The auditorium, built more than 40 years ago, missed out on the major renovations CVU underwent in 2003. Proponents for the renovation say the auditorium is well behind the times and needs to be updated in terms of safety, efficiency and aesthetics.

At a previous school board meeting, the board expressed interest in renovating the auditorium over a two-year period. The school’s architect, Banwell Architects, said it would cost $1.54 million to update the most pressing needs, which include a new stage floor and orchestra pit, a new catwalk system and an electrical system overhaul. The total cost of the a two-year renovation is estimated at $2.3 million.

Bob Mason, chief operations officer for Chittenden South Supervisory Union, said the board has around $800,000 available in a construction fund, much of which was left over from the 2003 renovations. He added the board has access to upwards of $644,000 in a reserve capital fund. He recommended at least $250,000 be kept in that fund for emergency purposes.

The board decided to allocate $300,000 from the reserve fund to help in the auditorium project. Members also agreed to assign another $65,000 from the same fund to repair the roof over rooms 138 to 158. Voters will be asked to approve the $365,000 total on Town Meeting Day.

The overall amount of money the School Board wants to commit to the auditorium would be $1.1 million. Combined with privately raised funds, the money for the first phase of renovation would be $1.4 million, just shy of what was requested. School Board Chairwoman Jeanne Jensen said that would be the best the board could do.

“This is a centered project — we’re not asking the community for any additional funds (for phase one),” Jensen said.

Possible additions

The school administration is also asking the board to approve some additions to the budget, including the hiring of instructional coaches — to support teacher development — at $72,000, a part-time Chinese language teacher at $15,000 and technology equipment at $40,000. Principal Sean McMannon said the additions would help CVU grow in what it offers its students.

While most board members seemed comfortable with the budget, some still felt there might be ways to save more. Board member Mike Bissonette said he wasn’t quite ready to support the budget.

“I’m really uncomfortable adding positions this year,” Bissonette said.

Board Vice Chairman Jeff Parker said that while he liked the budget, he wasn’t positive the community would support any increase from last year.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Parker said.

Jensen believed the small increase was appropriate and hoped community members would agree.

“If the community doesn’t like it, they’ll let us know and we’ll have to get back to work cutting more,” Jensen said.

The Champlain Valley Union High School Board is scheduled to finalize its budget for the 2009-2010 year during a meeting on Monday, Jan. 26 at 7 p.m. at CVU.