School Board Considers Budget Recommendations for FY2016

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Thursday January 15, 2015

2014 was a busy year for the South Burlington School District with many notable challenges and accomplishments. Now, with the arrival of 2015, it’s time to begin anew with the FY 2016 budget.

Although an outline of a baseline budget and areas of concern were first presented at the December 17, 2014 meeting, the January 5, 2015 meeting marked the first time the board had a chance to review the administration’s recommendations.

Superintendent David Young and Business Manager John Stewart led an overview of the FY 2016 recommended budget. They presented a revenue and expenditure summary, a staff summary, recent budget history, the projected core teacher FTE (Full time Equivalent) requirements at the secondary level, and primary school classroom FTE requirements.

Young said that this budget represents needed staffing levels, updates some technology infrastructure, maintains facilities, supports the stewardship plan, and places a large focus on ADA compliance.

What’s the bottom line? While it has not yet been adopted by the board, the total recommendation is for a budget of $45,747,228 dollars. This would mean a 1.81% increase in the residential tax rate over FY 2015. The increase in the non-residential tax rate over FY 2015 would be 2.59 %. The residential property tax impact before income sensitivity per $100,000 of homestead value would be $1,640; an increase over FY 15 of $30.
In practical terms, the tax on a $330,000 home, before income sensitivity, would be $5,411 dollars; which represents a $96 increase over last year. For a $226,000 condo, prior to income sensitivity, the taxes would be $3,705 which represents a $66 increase.

As Stewart and Young led the public and board through the budget line by line, Stewart pointed out the major increases and decreases in expenditures. One area that seems to come up annually is the amount spent on substitute teachers, for which the FY 16 budget shows a 10% increase. Young continues to explore this upward trend, but admitted it is difficult to determine why substitutes are being used so frequently since the reasons for utilization of family medical leave, a benefit provided by the district, is protected information. Chair Elizabeth Fitzgerald suggested looking at the resources in which the district has invested to assist employees with challenging circumstances, such as caring for aging parents, to see if they are effective. Young will continue to ask questions about how to best support teachers and staff since he too would like to see these costs go down and have teachers in front of their classes as much as possible.

Maintenance of the district’s aging facilities is routinely a big ticket item about which the board requested more information. The high school elevator project and the replacement of the roof at Chamberlin, which Stewart did not recommend deferring, make up the bulk of the Plant Repair Services line item. This line represents a 254.31% increase over FY 15 or $518,300 total.

The Grounds Supplies line was surprisingly high at an increase of 120.59% or $37,500. This increase is a result of playground inspections, which indicated that the district needs to maintain the mulch year round for safety reasons. A certain level of cushioning is required to prevent accidents and decrease liability.

A couple of positive elements in the budget that have kept taxes down are the reduction by 85% ($46, 998) in negotiation services since there aren’t any contracts up for renewal in the coming fiscal year, (five contracts were negotiated last year, many with multi-year terms) and a 32.75% increase in tuition from other districts ($2,088,738 dollars projected).

Young also presented a page dedicated to outlining changes made to the baseline budget. These included miscellaneous reductions, corrections of duplicate postings, fund transfers, and several teacher (3) and paraprofessional reductions (6). However, there were also additions that included two math coaches (1 FTE and one .5 FTE), a part time (.2 FTE) guidance individual, two part time (.2 FTE) special education teachers, two part time (.3 FTE and .2 FTE) ELL teachers, and one district wide FTE teacher in the area of information technology education.
Fitzgerald expressed concern about the additions of nearly four FTE’s, when the district’s enrollment remains flat. Young justified these additions by saying that student enrollment does not directly correlate to staffing. For example, he noted, the addition of math coaches will assist in changing education standards. Young said that because of having a math coach at Chamberlin, the students’ math scores have seen improvement.

As the budget discussions continue, the board will be cognizant of their communication plan to the public; they acknowledge that many community members have become disillusioned with how education is funded statewide. The board recently submitted a position paper on education funding to the legislature; it is available on the district website.

The board and the administration have been actively engaged in the process of fine-tuning the budget, and adoption of the final budget is expected soon.

CORRESPONDENT: Corey Burdick, Correspondent