Schools present $4 million spending increase proposal

By Jason Starr

Observer staff

School administrators on Tuesday gave the public its first glimpse of the budget for the upcoming fiscal year that will be up for voter approval at Town Meeting Day in March. 

With the caveat that some variables remain unknown — such as the amount of reserve funds the school board will use to offset spending and what the total student population will be in the district next year — Champlain Valley School District Chief Operations Officer Jeanne Jensen presented an $89.5 million proposal.

The proposal carries an increase in spending of about 5 percent ($4 million) over the current fiscal year and an increase in spending per student of 6.7 percent. The associated property tax increase — estimated “with a grain of salt,” Jensen said, due to the remaining unknowns — would be about 12 cents for every $100 of assessed property value, roughly $360 annually on a $300,000 home.

“These are kind of sobering numbers, but I hope it will become apparent how much we need the resources we are asking for,” Jensen said. 

The school board asked administrators to aim for a smaller increase in per-student spending (5.4 percent), which would come with a slightly smaller tax increase (10 cents for every $100 of assessed value). 

“There are a lot of compelling needs in the district right now, so we’re not holding ourselves to that target,” said Jensen. 

Budget hearings will continue at school board meetings every other Tuesday through Jan. 18, when the board hopes to finalize the proposal for Town Meeting Day. 

Contributing to the spending increase are anticipated salary increases in a new contract with the teachers union that is currently being negotiated, health insurance cost increases estimated at 5 percent and a 4.7 percent increase in the general cost of goods and services. 

The district is also planning to add two to four elementary school teachers, two special educators, a district-level data analyst and enough money for three full-time people to work on diversity, equity and inclusion.

Outside of the budget that will be on the Town Meeting Day ballot, the district is also managing pandemic relief and recovery funds that are flowing in from the federal government. According to Jensen, about $200,000 remains from the first two pandemic relief bills passed last year. Funds from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 will amount to $4.3 million to be spent over three years. 

The district is required to create a “stakeholders” committee to steer how that money will be spent. But administrators advise that the funds should focus on social and emotional learning, mental health and academic recovery from missed classroom time. Resources under consideration for pandemic recovery spending are social workers, guidance counselors and summer school programs.