Difficult Decisions for District Budget

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Thursday January 17, 2013

Superintendent David Young presented his recommended budget for FY14 at a well-attended January 9 school board meeting. This was the first time the school board members as well as the public, had a chance to review the information. The budget represents a 2.16% increase over FY13, which translates to a $369 tax increase on a home valued at $323,000 (before income sensitivity). Young explained that he has taken the charge of developing the budget seriously and understands the impacts to individuals and the community. When creating this budget, with the assistance of administrators, he considered how to move forward to achieve the District ends while facing the reality of  challenging financial times. “I tried to go forward while being mindful of the situation we’re in,” Young said.

Young and John Stewart, district business manager, outlined the additional reductions and changes to the preliminary budget. Among the topics were the recent history of budget votes, equalized pupils and actual enrollment, anticipated FY14 revenue, district-wide expenditures, and the facilities stewardship plan for FY14. The most contentious item was the revised elementary school student/teacher ratios.

The budget proposes a reduction of five elementary school teachers district wide. Across the district, this would increase class sizes by an average of 1.4 students at the K-5 level,  approaching a minimum average of 18 students per classroom. The breakdown of each grade and class size was presented and the area of prime concern, particularly to parents in the room, revolved around the projected Chamberlin school third grade class size of 23.5 students for next year.  Resident and parent of a daughter who will be entering third grade next year, Kelly Kanelos said, “I’m deeply concerned about the cuts being made in staffing. We’re doing an injustice to fragile learners with a class size of 23.” Kanelos referenced part of the common core that involves making students college and career ready. She expressed that she does not feel students will get the foundation they need to succeed in the future and implored the Board to seek other options rather than cutting staff.

“We are not in a most desirable scenario. I recognize the importance of ideal class size, but we need to make some hard choices,” Young said.

Brenda Balon, another parent who has children in the district, explained that she moved to South Burlington from a suburb of Boston where her children routinely had class sizes larger than 20 students. When her children enrolled in SBSD, they were in classes of 16 students, which she thought was great. “This rich past cannot continue,” Balon said. “We have been spoiled in the past with small class size, but it isn’t sustainable. We’re going to have to make some hard decisions…look at the bigger community, which includes taxpayers who don’t have children.”

Young added that there are resources in the schools that could help make the larger class sizes work. After an extensive question and answer period, the Board made a recommendation to look again at the third grade Chamberlin figures. In preparation for the final budget presentation scheduled for January 16, the board also recommended considering additional modifications to individual line items as well as making sure that the public is educated on a budget that is facing an increase.

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent