CVU budget could require two votes (11/25/09)

Cuts needed to avoid Act 82 trigger

Nov. 25, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

The Champlain Valley Union High School Board learned Monday that next year’s proposed budget exceeds the state-enacted cap on spending increases. As mandated by Act 82, voters would have to approve two budget articles in March unless the board makes significant cuts.

If CVU’s budget vote was held today, voters would have to approve a budget of approximately $21.65 million, plus a second article approving roughly another $375,000. Chittenden South Supervisory Union Chief Operations Officer Bob Mason confirmed CVU’s budget exceeds the state-implemented increase. Mason warned that the percentage may change.

“As a board, we’d be very interested in getting below that number,” said Jeanne Jensen, CVU School Board chairwoman.

Act 82, enacted by the Vermont Legislature last year, is a spending cap for school budgets. If a district’s budget increase exceeds the mandated percentage, a second vote is triggered. The percentage increase comes from a number of sources, including the average school budget increases in the last budget cycle.

Last year, the Williston School District faced the same predicament, but was able to keep that school budget to one article by reducing the budget increase to 0.3 percent over the previous year.

The 2010-2011 CVU baseline budget — the budget if the school opens with the same staff and services next year — is a 4.75 percent increase, coming to nearly $22.03 million.

Many board members are looking beyond reducing the budget to get beneath a two-vote threshold. Some prefer a level-funded budget, one with no spending increases or tax increases for voters.

“Let’s start out with a zero-based budget and then talk about what we have to add in,” said board member Mike Bissonette.

Board member Jonathan Milne agreed. He said economic stresses voters are dealing with should be reflected in the budget.

“A 3 percent increase is not dealing with reality,” Milne said.


Coming up with cuts

The board decided to ask school officials to come up with several scenarios on which services would be affected depending on potential cuts. One scenario would show the effects of getting the budget under the two-vote threshold. Another would show the effects of a level-funded budget.

To get to level funding, roughly $1 million would need to be cut from next year’s budget. Jensen warned other board members that the cuts “could get ugly.”

Also during the meeting, the School Board looked at possible areas that could receive cuts, notably transportation. The CVU budget for transportation is nearly $1 million. Mason said at the last meeting that CSSU is reworking how transportation is billed to allow for more accurate records. Since CVU requires the most buses of all school districts in the supervisory union, it will have to pay more for transportation.

Mason told the board the transportation costs cover such essentials as regular bus runs, express buses in Shelburne and Williston, special education transportation and a variety of other needs.

“I think we need to tear it apart into its components and see what we can take out,” Jensen said.

Mason said school officials are looking into increasing express busing across the supervisory union in order to decrease regular bus runs, which are more expensive. With express busing, students meet at a centralized location for the ride to CVU instead of “door-to-door” pick-up, Mason said.

Currently, an express bus leaves from Shelburne Town Offices and two leave from the Williston Town Hall-Armory parking lot. Both runs leave at 7:45 a.m. Mason said officials are looking into implementing an express bus in Charlotte.

He said more express runs would be added over time and not all at once, although Jensen urged him to look at implementing more.

“Having a high school kid walk a half-mile to a bus is not unreasonable,” she said.

The board also questioned CSSU’s decision to change billing practices for technology costs. Under the new method, all districts in the supervisory union would pool together for technology resources. Since CVU is the biggest school in CSSU, its costs have risen.

School officials said it makes sense, since technology and technical staff is shared across all districts. To break that out by school can sometimes create confusion and inaccuracy. But many board members believed CVU is putting in too much with CSSU’s calculations and they aren’t getting an appropriate return on the investment.

Jensen said if the CVU School Board agrees to the transportation and technology changes, it could be reducing teachers and staffing at the school. Those cuts are not something community members would favor, she said.


The next CVU budget meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Dec. 7 at the high school. A regular board meeting is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. and precede the budget meeting.