Transport costs drive up CVU budget (11/12/09)

School Board expects to make cuts

Nov. 12, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

The Champlain Valley Union High School Board took its first look at the school’s 2010-2011 budget during a meeting Monday night. The board was presented with baseline figures and other information that will help determine how to shape next school year’s budget.

“Think of the baseline as the cost to open the doors next year with programs remaining unchanged,” said Bob Mason, chief operations officer for Chittenden South Supervisory Union.

The baseline budget for next year is estimated at $22.03 million, an increase of 4.75 percent. The baseline does not yet take into account any changes with staffing or operations.

CVU School Board Chairwoman Jeanne Jensen said after the meeting she expects the board will make cuts over the coming months. She said the board is cognizant of the tough economic situation.

“I can’t promise level funding because we’re too early in the budget season right now,” Jensen said.

One of the reasons for an increase in the baseline budget is the upward swing in transportation costs. According to figures provided by Mason, CVU is looking at a 51 percent increase in transportation costs. The figures come to almost $988,000, or about $333,000 more than this school year’s cost.

Mason explained that CSSU is redoing how it calculates transportation costs in all schools. Instead of billing by mileage, CSSU will charge school districts by hours of transportation used. In past years, Mason said transportation billing figures were often incorrect and paid for either in the wrong school districts or different areas of the budget.

“What was budgeted (in the past) had little to do with what was actually spent,” Mason said. “The old system failed us miserably. The new system puts us in control as we spend our money.”

Reworking transportation billing procedures will allow for more accurate records, he added. CSSU is estimated to spend $1.66 million on transportation costs next school year. CVU is “leading the pack” among school districts on how much it will need to pay for transportation, Mason said.

Jensen told Mason she was “stunned” by the increase and said the board would likely have to make cuts in transportation. She said the increase is equivalent to salaries for five teachers.

“I have no idea where we’re going to go with this,” Jensen said.

Included in the overall transportation costs is an increased cost for special education transportation. In the past, CVU has hired taxis and other outside services to transport special needs students to appointments around the Champlain Valley during school hours. Special Education Director Dave Blanchard said the high school no longer wants to do that, instead making sure only CVU employees transport students.

“We weren’t feeling safe about the situation,” Blanchard said.

He said special education transportation costs could increase by $137,000 or more because of the change.

Technology costs

The CVU board also discussed a change in CSSU billing practices for technology, one that could increase CVU’s budget by $60,000. Technology costs, including staffing, would be pooled together at the CSSU level and then billed out to different districts based on usage. Board members seemed reticent to the idea.

“Because of the algorithm, we’re not getting anything extra for our $60,000 increase,” Jensen said. “It doesn’t make sense this year.”

The board also heard some details on possible decision packets from CVU’s special education, technology and operations department.

CVU Principal Sean McMannon discussed upgrades to the athletic fields, which are having drainage issues. The fields might need a complete renovation. He said the issue would be brought up for further discussion in future meetings.


Williston School District to begin budgeting

The Williston School District’s budget season kicks off Thursday with a meeting at Williston Central School. The meeting will take place in the school’s dining room from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

A Families as Partners meeting will immediately follow the budget meeting. The FAP typically meets in the morning, but wants to see if evening gatherings will boost turnout.