Merged school district approves $77 million budget

Source: Champlain Valley School District

Voters in the five communities of the newly merged Champlain Valley School District didn’t hesitate on Tuesday as they faced and handily approved a $76.8 million budget and a short list of other spending items on the ballot.

The budget passed by a vote of 3,042 to 1,850, according to district officials. Ballots from the five communities were mixed together and fed into machines to be tabulated, producing one combined vote total. There was no ballot count by town.

In step with the statewide trend, last year the district merged all of its K-12 schools and in doing so, set the stage for the first single school-budget vote for the communities of Charlotte, Hinesburg, St. George, Shelburne and Williston.

Previously, the towns shared the cost of the Champlain Valley Union High School budget and each town was responsible for K-8 spending in separate elementary schools. The budget that will go into effect for the 2018-19 school year represents a spending increase of 2.3 percent over this year’s budget, school officials said.

School Board Chair David Connery said he was very happy to see everything pass by wide margins. Still, school officials were anxious to see how the first vote on such a large budget would fare across the five communities. In the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s vote, the board conducted many public informational meetings to get input and answer questions.

“I am always very cautious and never take things for granted. However, based on the many presentations we did on this budget, and the questions that were asked, I felt the public had a good grasp on what the components were and that our operating budget was well-managed,” Connery said. “We had members from each town out talking to their neighbors a lot.”

Despite the wide margins in the vote totals, voter turnout in the district Tuesday was low. According to town clerks in each of the communities, there are 22,833 registered voters in the five towns combined. Turnout was just 21 percent overall.

In addition to the budget, voters Tuesday also approved several other articles on the ballot:

  • Article IX asked voters to approve applying some of the district’s surplus to offset taxes. Consolidation required the district to combine all revenue and expenses from the smaller districts. School officials asked voters to approve putting $750,000 into the new budget to help offset taxes. Still in hand is an additional surplus of $1,625,877 that can be used as revenue for future budgets. Voters approved this question 3,742 to 1,110.
  • Article X asked voters to authorize borrowing up to $485,000 to buy six school buses. The district has a fleet of 59 buses and school officials would like to replace five to six vehicles each year, with an eye toward using each bus about eight years on average. Voters approved that question 3,061 to 1,807.
  • Article XI asked voters to approve re-allocating funds from the $9.25 million construction bond used to renovate Shelburne Community School in 2016-17. When that work was completed last fall, there was $819,665 unspent. This measure asked voters to authorize putting those funds toward a variety of upgrades to school buildings in Shelburne, Williston, Charlotte and Hinesburg. The bond is being paid by tax dollars from all of the district’s communities given the merger. Voters approved this by a vote of 3,846 to 1,039.

Connery said he spent the most time answering questions about this ballot item. this last question was
“I am extremely grateful that it passed so that we can finish the work in Shelburne and use the balance to fix items like Charlotte’s boiler,” he said.

Looking ahead to the coming weeks, Connery said the board will be paying close attention to the debate in Montpelier over school funding and possible changes to the state allocation formula that many lawmakers and local officials say is too complicated and unfair. “Something needs to be addressed when a 3-cent increase in operating expenses turns into an 8-cent increase in the tax rate because of the funding formula,” he noted.

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