CVU board minimizes budget increase12/4/08

Auditorium renovations a big question mark

Dec. 4, 2008

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

Next year’s budget proposal for Champlain Valley Union High School currently features a small increase, though numbers could jump depending on the amount of private financing raised for renovations to the school’s auditorium.

As of now, CVU is looking at a baseline budget of $21.03 million. It’s an increase of a little more than $313,000, or 1.51 percent, from this school year’s budget.

CVU School Board Chairwoman Jeanne Jensen said she’s pleased with the baseline budget. Ever since the towns served by the school — Charlotte, Hinesburg, Shelburne and Williston — agreed to pay for a bond for major school-wide renovations in 2003, Jensen said the board has worked to have tight budgets.

“Out of respect for that, we try to keep the budget down,” Jensen said.

Reasons for the boost include normal increases for health insurance and transportation costs. Diesel fuel costs in particular are expected to climb 215 percent from last year.

Funding for union high schools in Vermont, including CVU, is determined by Act 130. Each town that sends students to the high school pays a tax percentage that corresponds with the number of its high school students.

The lone exception to this rule in the CVU district is St. George, which tuitions its students to a high school of their choice, said Bob Mason, chief operations officer for Chittenden South Supervisory Union. Most St. George students choose CVU because of proximity, he added.

Mason said next year’s figures have yet to be calculated, but he expects them in the next few weeks. He doesn’t expect the numbers to change significantly.

Budget additions?

And while the baseline budget is settled, other additions still have to be decided. The big issue is determining where funding will come from for improvements to the 44-year-old auditorium. With a moratorium in place by the Vermont Legislature on state funding for school construction projects, and a poor economy, the school may need to become more creative to fund improvements.

“It’s looking less likely that we’d go for a bond vote this year,” Jensen said.

The auditorium was initially supposed to be updated in 2003, but was left off the renovation bond vote because of high costs and instead received minor renovations in 2005. An auditorium fundraising committee was started last year in an effort to raise private donations. The committee hopes to raise just more than $1 million toward an estimated $2.3 million renovation.

As for funding from the school, $800,000 will most likely be allocated from CVU’s capital fund. Jensen said voters would probably be asked in March to approve the use of the existing funds for the auditorium.

Because capital funds and private donations don’t add up to enough for the renovation, Jensen said the School Board would look at other options.

“The board is going to pick up as much as we can reasonably handle,” Jensen said.

The CVU School Board’s next budget meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 8. A regular board meeting is being held immediately afterwards.