Thursday January 23, 2014
At the January 15 school board meeting, the proposed budget was once again the primary topic of discussion. The Tuttle Middle School library held a captive audience of residents as well as all South Burlington district principals.
Business Manager John Stewart and Superintendent David Young went over the big ticket items in the budget and broke down the line items into categories.
The budget proposed at the start of the meeting amounted to $44,372,297, an increase of $1,385,546 over the previous fiscal year. In terms of expenditures, salaries make up $26,370,944 and benefits comprise $9,193,674 which together amount to $35,564,618. This makes up 80.15% of the total budget.
Overall, salaries are up 1.17% and benefits are up by 3.15%.
The other 20% of the budget is comprised of purchased professional services ($28,000), purchased property services (down by 20% or $122,167 from last year due to anticipated bond approval), other purchased services (down by $100,000), computers (increase of $128,000 over last year for a total of $449,399), and miscellaneous costs and contingency. This item includes $45,000 to cover the initial investment in Common Core math programming, $452,957 in contingent funds, and $125,000 budgeted for nutritional services to cover past deficits.
After hearing this information, Chair Elizabeth Fitzgerald opened the floor to Board members to ask questions. Board member Dan Fleming expressed a desire to remove the $125,000 line item earmarked for the nutritional services deficit from the budget entirely. He justified this proposed action by reminding the board that they’d be writing a check to themselves for money that has already been spent and that since a plan is now in place for nutritional services and it is trending in a positive direction, there’s no need to place that burden on the taxpayer. Resident Gerry Silverstein said, “I think you’d get a lot more bang for your buck by spending half a million dollars on nutrition services rather than computers.” Elizabeth Fitzgerald said that this deficit is a liability to the community that needs to be addressed.
Mr. Silverstein, who said he had reviewed the budget at length, had the opportunity to express several points when the floor was opened to the public. He said that while he understood the logic behind everything the administration had done with the budget, they needed to think about the big picture. “Everyone likes to kick the can down the road, instead of looking ahead,” Silverstein said, “people avoid the problem (of increased spending) because it’s too difficult to look at…unless we get better control of our spending, this is going to be a detriment to students down the road…this debt burden is a horrible legacy to leave them.” Silverstein pointed to salary increases at the college level as a prime example. He intimated that salaries go up because teachers feel they deserve them since they are providing a valuable service, but it’s the students who ultimately pay. College students are currently graduating with some of the highest loan debt in history.
Silverstein said that he has shifted from thinking he would vote “no” on the budget to a neutral position. A primary sticking point for him is the half a million dollar per year expenditure on computers. “Without seeing proof of outcomes, I don’t know if spending $500,000 on computers is getting you where you want to go. The spending per pupil in Vermont is twice that of New Hampshire and Massachusetts, but the test assessments are the same,” Silverstein said, referencing information he gleaned from a recent symposium on school financing at St. Michael’s College.
Fleming made a motion to reduce the nutritional services deficit contribution line item from $125,000 to $50,000, LaLonde seconded and the decision was unanimous. After the adjustment was made, the new proposed FY15 budget total was $44,277,297. This reduced the initial proposed school expenditure portion of the budget from 3.22% to 3.05% making the total tax impact 8.27%. The tax impact before income sensitivity on a $326,000 home is a $409 increase and the tax impact before income sensitivity on a $225,000 condo is a $282 increase. LaLonde made a motion to approve the revised budget, Diane Bugbee seconded and the decision was unanimous.
Elizabeth Fitzgerald thanked the administrators for working with the board to create a balanced budget. The budget book goes to the printer on January 23. Stay tuned for updates on upcoming candidate forums and opportunities to voice your questions on the budget.
SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent