Thursday March 23, 2017
For the first time in recent memory, the South Burlington School District’s budget was defeated. After the March 7 defeat, the school board was tasked with presenting a new budget to voters within 30 days, with or without changes. At the March 15 school board meeting, Superintendent David Young presented a revised budget to the board and a packed audience at the middle school library. The board ultimately approved a new FY 2018 budget in a 4:1 vote, with Bridget Burkhardt voting “nay.”
Young and former long time district business manager John Stewart, who filled in for David Aubin, presented a revised FY 2018 school budget. The revised numbers brought the budget spending increase from 7.65 percent down to 5.92 percent and the tax rate from an increase of 2.1 percent (from FY ‘17) to a decrease of 0.07 percent. The result of this change would be a one dollar reduction in annual taxes per $100,000 of assessed value. The owner of a condo with an average assessed value of $227,647 would see a reduction from last year of three dollars and the owner of a home with an average assessed value of $335,839 would see a four dollar annual tax reduction. These figures are prior to income sensitivity.
How did Young and his administration get to these new numbers? Twenty-one reductions, as well as several additional cost saving measures were made, such as three anticipated retirements totaling $72,000, health care savings at $50,000, and the removal of the part time communications coordinator position at$34,028. The proposed additional administrator position was dropped for a reduction of $55,000 (with $15,000 retained from the original amount for substitute coverage and $20,000 for special project work). The anticipated move of the central office was taken off resulting in a savings of $75,000. (An amount of $47,914 was kept in the budget to fund the Rebel name change, for items needed to compete.) Of the costs nixed, just over a dozen involve deferred maintenance to the schools that would not currently impact health or safety. Removing the contribution to the Capital Reserve Fund in the amount of $300,000 was also noted.
The revised budget represents reductions of $810,814 from the budget that was defeated March 7.
After the presentation, board members had an opportunity to offer their suggestions and plug in or remove pieces of the budget to see what change it made to the bottom line. Martin LaLonde asked about the necessity of keeping a contingency teacher in the budget, but both Young and the elementary school principals present encouraged that it remain given the high rate of variability in enrollments, especially at the kindergarten level. However, cost savings from changes in health care plans beginning in January 2018, could be realized in the back half of the year which resulted in $50,000 coming off the budget.
Steve Wisloski expressed concern regarding the cost savings realized through deferred maintenance and did not want it to become a habit. Bridget Burkhardt agreed and said that the run rate for the budget was clearly a concern for the community, but she didn’t see any cut backs on teachers or programming. She noted that if the deferred maintenance continues, future budgets will continue to rise.
This is likely one of the reasons why some may have voted the budget down. The issue of an “unsustainable” budget has come up time and again at board meetings, online, and at town meeting day. Ever growing budgets coupled with slight enrollment decreases and the fact that less than 30 percent of South Burlington residents have children of school age, helped create a perfect storm that led some residents to send a message at the polls. The issue came up again at Wednesday’s meeting, where a resident noted that the proposed reduction was still a “big increase” in spending.
LaLonde responded by noting the significant increase in revenue the district continues to see from tuition. He also said that the district accepts students as they come through the door and the district must provide adequate services for those with additional needs. LaLonde was referring to the uptick in the number of children requiring special education services, which has resulted in the need for additional staff. This budget includes a pilot program that would explore this issue further and hopefully result in cost savings in the future.
After discussion wrapped, Chair Elizabeth Fitzgerald read the annual school district meeting warning that alerts residents that a vote on the FY2018 revised budget in the amount of $49,754,590 will take place April 6, 2017 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the regular polling locations of Tuttle Middle School, Orchard, and Chamberlin Schools. Absentee ballots will also be available.
The board met once again on Friday March 17 to finalize details for a document to be inserted in The Other Paper. The board also went into executive session to discuss teacher negotiations. When they returned from executive session, the board announced that negotiations were at an impasse.
SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent