Third Time’s a Charm School Budget Passes

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Thursday June 08, 2017

Voting District

7-1 Orchard: Yes: 1,017 No: 477 Total:  1,494

7-2 FHTMS: Yes: 1,002 No: 652 Total: 1,654

7-3 FHTMS: Yes: 555 No: 330 Total: 885

7-4 Chamberlin: Yes: 572 No: 608 Total: 1,180

Total Yes: 3,146 Total No: 2,067 Total: 5,213

Yes:60.35% No:39.65% Total: 100%

Total Registered to Vote: 14,438

Percent Voted: 36.1%

On June 6, the South Burlington School District’s revised FY’18 budget passed by a wide margin. The budget development process, which began in October 2016, faced fierce scrutiny and, ultimately, was defeated in two previous budget votes this spring. The school board and administration re-evaluated their communication strategies and successfully fine-tuned a budget that the majority of voters could understand and support.

Voter turnout was unusually high, possibly due to significant outreach efforts via social media by the Vote Yes PAC, the Rebel Alliance PAC, and the district itself. Typical turnout for a non-presidential election hovers around 23 percent. In the June 6 turnout, 5,213 votes were cast, representing participation of 36 percent of South Burlington’s registered voters.

The convenience of early voting in person at City Hall or via absentee ballot continued to be popular with a record 1,500 residents taking advantage of this option.

The “no” votes accounted for nearly 40 percent of the votes with a tally of 2,067, while the supporters of the budget registered 3,146 “yes” votes, representing 60 percent of the total. Three of the voting districts, Orchard 7-1, FHTMS 7-2, and FHTMS 7-3, all passed the budget. In the Chamberlin voting district 7- 4, the budget was defeated with 608 “no” votes to 573 “yes” votes.

This budget saw substantial reductions from the initial $50 million budget proposed at town meeting day in March. The third proposed budget, which was approved, came in at $49,268,888. This represents a 4.98 percent increase over FY ‘17, a bump that was offset by non-property tax revenues of $12,046,081 (a 14.22 percent increase over FY ‘17). This brought the net cost of the budget increase to a 2.18 percent increase, which is in line with the district’s ten year average for budgets. However, the numbers voters saw on the ballot, as required by state statute, represented the budget total and cost per equalized pupil, which is $15, 401, an increase of 2.32 percent. Ultimately, these figures resulted in a 1.20 percent tax decrease over FY ‘17 for residents. Additional savings will be seen in calculations for tax bills that are adjusted for income sensitivity.

The recommended budget maintains appropriate class sizes in the elementary grades and funds a contingency elementary teacher, per the board’s request. It preserves programming at the middle and high school, but removes the targeted math and literacy support at that level. It also minimizes staff cuts, introduces a pilot program to better support trauma affected students, and supports state mandated personalized learning plans at the middle and high school.

The recommended budget did not include funding for the uniform changes needed to replace Rebel gear.

Proponents of the “yes” votes supported competitive programming for both current and future students, keeping reasonable class sizes, and continuing to make South Burlington a desirable community for prospective residents.

Critics of the budget noted unsustainable growth in district spending overall and often pointed to teacher salaries and benefits, and accountability, as well as the Rebel name change as key reasons for continuing to vote down the budget.

With the budget passed, the board will continue their efforts toward securing a contract with the SBEA and the district’s two other bargaining units. Currently, of the more than 150 teachers’ union contracts in the state, only about 10 have reached settlements, while the majority have passed budgets.

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent