Merged school board approves $74M budget

Only Williston gets tax hike

By Jess Wisloski

Observer staff

For the first time as a united leadership body, the 12 elected members of the Champlain Valley School District’s new board approved a school budget on Tuesday night, at Williston Central School.

The leaders, now called the Board of School Directors, collectively approved a $75.1 million budget for the first time combining the needs of schools in five towns across the district: Williston, Charlotte, Shelburne, St. George and Hinesburg.

According to budget documents, the change in total education spending across the district formerly known as Chittenden South Supervisory Union increased by 4.4 percent    but Kevin Mara, Williston school director, said in the wake of the $19.85 million bond agreement to repair WCS,  the town “was already seeing the benefits of merging.”

“If you recall, when we went to the town for the bond vote [the board projected it would cost $148 per year per household]. We’re seeing benefit right there right out of the gate. Just on that vote,” he said, noting that the increase will be more like $24 per $100,000 thanks to the merging of the assets and savings from consolidating the district’s costs. Even if that number’s not exact, he said the bond approval was still presuming a higher tax rate than will actually occur.

Williston’s projected adoption of property tax increase from the previous year is 1.2 percent.

“It’s a different way to look at it as a Williston resident. In a sense, when you bought into the bonds, you bought into a higher tax rate than you’re getting right now.”

The final budget was approved at $75,144,759, about $300,000 less than originally anticipated, since employee health insurance plan costs actually went down.

While the 1.2 percent hike is more than 2015’s austere .38 percent increase, it’s well below previous years, when Williston faced up to 7 percent budget hikes, including a 2013 budget that voters rejected by a thin margin, proposing a 5 percent increase.

After the merger, Williston is the one only town with an increase, with Charlotte seeing at a 11.3 percent drop; Hinesburg 5.4 percent down; Shelburne seeing 2.9 percent lower taxes, and St. George facing a 16.2 percent drop. While Williston’s per-pupil spending rose, other towns’ costs dropped.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Shelburne representative Alice Brown couldn’t refrain from commenting on the numbers. “I’ve not had a change like this in the 13 years I’ve done it,” said Brown, who works as a CY Mentor coordinator. “People are just sitting here, and I’m like, ‘Yay!’” she said. CVSD Board Chair David Connery agreed with her, and St. George’s director, Kelly Bowen, spoke up. “We have been so hesitant with these numbers, I think we’re still in sticker shock,” she said enthusiastically.