Thursday January 25, 2018
The school board unanimously approved their FY 2019 budget January 17 after making an adjustment to allow for an additional contingency teacher. The administration’s recommended budget came in at a 1.74 percent increase, but that has been bumped up to 1.96 percent with the additional contingency position. This represents a $71 annual tax increase for the average condo owner and a $104 annual increase for the average homeowner. Although the board voted unanimously to approve the budget, Elizabeth Fitzgerald voted against adding the contingency line item.
This budget season, the board has grappled with balancing long term needs with the unpredictability of education funding in the state. With the unknowns swirling, Superintendent David Young and Business Manager John Aubin worked toward developing a conservative budget with a minimal increase in spending (0.68 percent proposed and 0.85 percent approved or $417,284 over FY 2018). Throughout the four budget iterations, Young presented staffing and enrollment data as well as projections based upon a report from McKibben Demographics. The fluctuations in enrollment and the need to make staffing changes throughout the fall has been a recurring issue year after year. This is why a contingency teacher is always included in the budget and is consistently used. However, the projections for some elementary class sizes, for example 65 children with three teachers projected for Rick Marcotte Central School’s second grade next year, gave the public and board members pause.
Cindy Tan, a fourth grade teacher at Chamberlin School explained that this is a problem that comes up every year, especially at the elementary level. “It’s always a fight to see who can get the contingency teacher, who can get the most parents to meetings or present the most convincing case.” Tan added that long term, redistricting, such as creating K-3 schools could help resolve this issue. One resident also noted that if there is a grade of 65 students all of a sudden, it could take kids who were in a class of 16 one year, go up to 22 the next, causing stress to both the teachers and students.
Young explained that he was not trying to push the envelope with enrollment and staffing numbers, but that a number of factors are weighed when making these decisions, not the least of which are administrators’ feedback, distribution of resources, and student needs in each grade. Young’s fiscally conservative approach also considered the taxpayer and state pressures urging districts to reduce staffing. While statewide, equalized pupils decreased by two percent, South Burlington finds itself in the unusual position of having increased enrollment.
When it came time to vote on whether or not to add an additional contingency teacher, most board members were in favor, but Elizabeth Fitzgerald voted against the item. She noted that over the years, the district has had either flat, declining, or slightly increasing enrollment and she did not want to see this year’s 5.5 percent increase in equalized pupils used as reasoning to add to the overall FTE count. Her concern is that this position would continue to be rolled into future budgets.
Other additions to the 2019 budget include a 0.5 district communications coordinator, pavement repair that would not meet the useful life required to be included in the bond, an Orchard School co-teaching position, Orchard School carpet and tile replacement, a 1.0 FTE BCBA behavior coach, safety and security software, and a school nursing services change that would have a registered nurse on site every day - this adds 0.4 FTE to the RN position and eliminates the 0.6 FTE LPN position.
An administrator will also be needed to provide assistance with class scheduling and training for successors in two key positions at the high school. Both Director of Guidance Tim Wile and Assistant Principal Pat Philips, who have been responsible for crafting the master schedule will be retiring this year.
For the school portion of the March 6 ballot, voters will see three articles. Article I is the election of two individuals to the school board, Article II is the budget at $49,686,166, and Article III seeks approval for a bond of $950,500. The idea behind bonding for certain expenses is to spread the cost of these items over a 20-year period so there is more inter-generational equity. The bond will cover $325,000 toward athletic facility improvements including a bathroom at Munson Field, $150,000 toward library infrastructure that is necessary since the city left the shared library space at the high school, and $425,000 for various stewardship and security upgrades across all five schools.
SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent