Five towns, six schools, one budget process begins

Five towns, six schools – the newly formed Champlain Valley School District is a $75 million enterprise. At its first budget meeting as a unified school board, school director representatives from each town, parents, educators, and community members from the five towns came to hear a presentation about the budget, then broke into smaller meetings with school board members to address town-specific issues.

Jeanne Jensen, the school district’s chief operating officer, used the bulk of the main meeting to familiarize people with the new structure of the school budgets. Though there are six separate schools – Shelburne Community School, Charlotte Central School, Hinesburg Community School, Allen Brook Elementary School and Williston Central School, and Champlain Valley Union High School – Jensen stressed that they all operate under one budget.

But it’s still important to the board that each school maintains its identity. “We want to make sure all kids are equal,” she said. “The autonomy part is that we don’t want cookie-cutter schools, so there has to be some flexibility in the way that the leadership and the schools can deliver the education that we require.”

Combining all the schools’ needs into one big budget is a formidable task, both for the administration and for the school directors from the various towns. They are trying to look at the school district as one entity rather than six separate ones, which presents challenges that the board hasn’t tackled before. “This is a learning opportunity,” Jensen said. “I’m sure we’ll learn a lot and make some tweaks over the next year.”

The school board strives to spend taxpayer money wisely while fulfilling needs for every school, including operations, maintenance, IT, food service, and staffing. Boards have always faced this challenge, but this year, Jensen said, working with several schools adds a new level of consideration.

“It’s really difficult when you’re trying to figure out of you need a teacher in Charlotte, or a para[educator] in Williston, or a bus,” she said. “There are a lot of needs and a small amount of money to do it with.”

Voting on the district budget will take place on Town Meeting Day and approval will be similar to that of the process that applied for votes on the CVU budget — as long as a majority of voters across all five towns approve the budget, it will pass.

Budget meetings continue through December and January. All begin at 6 p.m. and will be held Dec. 5 in the Charlotte Central School Library; Dec. 19 in the Hinesburg Community School Flex Space; Jan. 9 in the Shelburne Community School Library; Jan. 23 in the Williston Central School Dining Room.

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