School Board Reviews Preliminary Budget

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Thursday January 14, 2016

The school board took a first look at facts and figures at their last meeting in December, and on January 6, they delved further into the details. Given the increasing state mandates and Act 46, which places spending cap thresholds on districts, the budget development process has not been an easy task.

The district is fortunate to have long time Business Manager John Stewart at the helm along with financial analyst Annette Harton, who was crucial in outlining school district expenditures and various school configuration-staffing scenarios for the Master Planning and Visioning Task Force last year.

Superintendent David Young and Stewart presented the FY 2017 proposed budget and covered three items being proposed for the March ballot: the budget, a bond vote to address significant identified needs, and a capital reserve fund to allot money to be used in future years, avoiding cost fluctuations and Act 46 threshold implications. According to Young, “the recommended budget allows the district to continue to provide students with appropriate learning opportunities to meet the district’s identified Ends at a cost the community can support.” If the school board approves, voters would see the three proposed items on the March ballot.

It is important to note that the preliminary budget reviewed January 6 is not final, but so far shows a tax decrease to residents. The Act 46 cost containment measure enacted by the legislature sets the maximum cost per equalized pupil at $15,174.39. Cost per equalized pupil in the FY 17 proposed South Burlington budget is $14,994.54, which means that the district would avoid a penalty on the tax rate.

A bond is being proposed in the amount of $2,500,000 to be financed over 20 years. Projects to be financed are primarily for ADA compliance issues and hazardous materials remediation at the middle and high school. Some of the projects included in the bond would be the Munson Field project, window replacements, restroom upgrades, flooring, carpet, and asbestos floor tile replacement at the middle school, removing the high school gym ceiling in conjunction with roof replacement, and coating the roof over the gymnasium.

In the past, many of these projects were simply placed in the operating budget, but Act 46 is a major driver in going out for the bond. If funding these projects were to go through the operating budget, the budget would be over the cost containment limit by $345,216. In addition, the timing is good for a bond as the district’s bonded debt level is currently very low, since the 1995 and 1996 bonds have been repaid.

School Board Chair Elizabeth Fitzgerald pointed out that it is going to be important to articulate to the taxpayer the incremental expense over the coming years since residents could be asked to take on long term debt.

The third proposed ballot item would involve establishing a capital reserve fund. The establishment of such a fund has been discussed several times over the past decade, according to Stewart. It was proposed by administration in 2008, but not accepted and it has been recommended by outside auditors on two occasions. Stewart outlined several scenarios applied to the FY 2017 preliminary budget that show the effect of establishing a capital reserve fund in the amounts of $50,000, $150,000, and $300,000. In all three scenarios, the budget would remain under the cost containment cap.

Fitzgerald expressed concern about taking three ballot items to the public, including asking for money on top of the budget, before the conversation regarding master planning and visioning has taken place with the community.

Stewart and Young also covered comparative staffing levels. At the December 16 meeting, the preliminary budget showed an increase of 11.44 FTEs (Full Time Equivalent)over the level included in the 2016-opening budget. 6.67 of this increase in FTEs occurred during the current FY 2016 school year and the additional increase in FY 2017 is currently at 4.77 FTEs.

Young outlined in detail where these FTEs would land throughout the schools and the board requested more information regarding why additional staff are necessary. Board members pointed out that the community will need more information in order to make these additions defensible. Members also requested information on what the impact would be to the district if these positions remained unfilled, the number of students in advanced placement programming, details on the human resources generalist position, and additional information on the trend of declining enrollment and increased staffing.

Budget discussions are scheduled to continue at the January 13 meeting.

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent