Thursday May 18, 2017
At a May 10 meeting, the school board unanimously approved Superintendent David Young’s recommendation for the next iteration of the FY’18 budget. They also warned the voting date for June 6, 2017, by Australian ballot, at the regular South Burlington polling locations of Orchard School, Chamberlin School, and Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School (FHTMS). Although, the figures Young presented had not changed from the week prior, he did provide additional information and clarity regarding some key budget initiatives.
This third proposed budget comes in at $49,268,888. This is a 4.89 percent spending increase over FY ‘17, but with increased revenue coming in, this budget results in an actual decrease in taxes of 1.20 percent. If passed, this budget would mean a reduction in residential property taxes (determined prior to income sensitivity); taxes for a detached home valued at $335,647 would see an annual decrease of $65 ($5.41 monthly), a condo valued at $227,647 would see an annual reduction of $44 ($3.36 monthly) from FY ’17. The cost per equalized pupil is up 2.32 percent from FY ‘17 at $15,401.12. Both the total expenditure amount and the cost per equalized pupil are the figures required to be used in the ballot question.
A document containing answers to frequently asked questions in the areas of sustainability and financial trends, labor negotiations, board and district leadership, and the Rebel identifier was provided at the meeting and is posted on the district website as well. It addresses answers to some of the the key concerns expressed by residents who voted against the budget, as compiled by the board at an early April meeting. One issue is the question of sustainability around the 4.89 percent proposed increase in spending over last year, since this exceeds the ten-year average increase of three percent. This increase is due to several factors. An increase in spending for services for children with special needs that are served by either district staff or by outside contracts is one area with rising costs. These expenses are reimbursed to the district by either 56 percent or 90 percent depending on the costs of the services and other factors. A second increase is associated with the need for additional staff at the high school for various classes. However, an increase in tuition students choosing to attend school here covers many of these costs. Revenues increased 14.22 percent over FY ‘17, which brings the net cost of the budget increase down to a 2.18 percent increase; this is in line with the district ten-year average.
This budget maintains appropriate elementary class sizes, as outlined in the board’s G6 policy, preserves most programs at the middle and high school, and does not include any incremental spending as a result of the Rebel name change.
In terms of the Rebel identifier, while there wasn’t any line item to support “need to compete” uniform replacements in the first budget proposed in March, $47,914 was included in the April 6 budget. But in this third iteration, that line item has been removed. What remains is $48,515 for regularly scheduled uniform and supplies replacement, which is on a 5-year cycle, and $25,100 to replace the gym floor (this money is within the bond that also covered the high school elevator replacement, window replacement, and bathroom upgrades). Young reported at the May 10 meeting that the Vermont Principals’ Association has agreed to allow South Burlington athletic teams to compete using only one uniform for both home and away games for the upcoming school year.
Young also provided information about the components that figure into the tax rate calculation including how and why it can vary over the years. Young noted that depending on the tax rate parameters set each year by the state, the tax rate can be lower or higher. Some years there can be a higher tax rate with a lower level of expenditures. The proposed year is one where the tax rate decreases while expenditures increase. The five factors that go into determining the property tax rate are proposed expenditures ($49,268,888, up 4.89 percent from FY ‘17), estimated revenues ($12,046,081, up 14.22 percent), the “yield” ($10,077, up 3.88 percent), the number of equalized pupils (2,416.80, down 0.13 percent), and the common level of appraisal (95.98 percent, negligible change). All of these factors feed into this year’s proposed property tax rate decrease of 1.20 percent.
At the last meeting, community members sought more information regarding the pilot program to better address students affected by trauma in the school system. Both Young and Director of Student Support Systems Joanne Godek provided numbers and clarity around this issue; the number of students in the school system affected by trauma has continued to see an increase. Data provided at the meeting indicated estimates of students exhibiting some signs and behaviors that are consistent with trauma like behaviors and the numbers are startling. At both Chamberlin and FHTMS, the numbers are just over 20 percent. Preliminary high school data indicates a number of 12.42 percent, and Rick Marcotte Central School and Orchard School percentages are at 7.22 and 6.19 percent respectively.
A board certified behavior analyst would oversee a pilot program that ideally would allow quick crisis response, a dedicated space for de-escalation, and strong behavior support plans. Success would be measured by examining changes in the number of school suspensions, expulsions, office referrals, and restraints/seclusions. Without the program, existing resources would be used to respond to crisis situations.
After the board unanimously voted to take this budget to the voters June 6, Chair Elizabeth Fitzgerald noted that in her 11 or 12 years reviewing budgets, this one represented some of the administration’s finest work and she hoped when residents go to vote, “they vote on the budget’s merits.”
If the budget fails for a third time, the city’s charter states that the board must continue to work diligently to achieve an approved budget. Until that time, the charter would allow the district to borrow funds at 100% of the prior year’s approved budget for operational expenses. Various media outlets and online forums have incorrectly stated that a third failed budget vote would automatically result in the adoption of the FY’17 budget, by default.
§13-1304 Amount to be raised by taxation – Amended 2012
(c) If the budget for the city or school district is not approved by the voters at the special meeting [provided for in subsection (b) of this section] the city council or school board shall diligently pursue voter approval of its budget. Pending voter approval of a city or school district budget, the city and school district shall be authorized to borrow funds and make expenditures that do not exceed the amount of the budget approved by the voters for the preceding year.
The administration has determined what that level funded budget might look like, due to contractual obligations the district has to provide employment notifications to staff, in the absence of an approved budget. In the meantime, Fitzgerald says that at the board level, no decision or discussion about interim steps have taken place.
If you’d like to read details of the budget prior to the June 5 public information session, you can find the documents on the school district’s website or you can watch prior meetings online at RETN.
SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent