After a brief break for the holidays, the school board and district administration returned to work in early January to review the latest iteration of the proposed FY 2020 budget.

At the Dec. 19 meeting, a budget was presented that proposed adding a support person to human resources, as well as the office of operations and three security staff for the elementary schools, among others. The largest portion of the increase, however, was a proposed early education program at Central School. This would require hiring three full-time equivalent staff members to support the program. One of the ideas behind implementing the programs, aside from creating equity among the schools, is the potential cost savings that could be realized by bringing the services provided in house. The board was curious to hear more details before supporting this request.

Director of Student Support Services Joanne Godek was on hand to discuss why she has been pushing to add the program at Central for the past three years, one which is already well established at both Orchard and Chamberlin Schools. The state currently offers 10 hours per week of free pre-kindergarten to parents, and most take advantage of this, Godek said. However, data indicates that there has been an increase in the number of students coming to the district with disabilities, making early interventions even more important to long-term student success. Godek explained that identifying a developmental delay at age 3 or 4 rather than 5 or 6 is key. This delay could be something involving speech or language or demonstrated behaviors that could indicate trauma.

Godek estimates 55-65 of the 340 students taking advantage of Act 166 (Vermont’s Universal PreK law) would fall into that category (of having a developmental delay) in the coming year in South Burlington. Godek said the district is at a place where they can’t live without the additional program.

“Some kids don’t have the social/emotional regulation skills they need when they come into public education at age 5 or 6,” she said. “We work in early interventions to shift their brains, but it doesn’t happen overnight.”

After Godek and Young’s presentations regarding full-time equivalent staff, Chair Elizabeth Fitzgerald said while they had both made compelling cases for FTEs, given that enrollment has remained relatively flat, she would like to see evidence of outcomes that justify investment in programming.

“Where is the deployment of resources achieving, or not, the desired outcome?” Fitzgerald asked. She added that during her tenure on the board, she has seen a lot of programs begun, but not as many re-evaluated or stopped if they were deemed ineffective. She noted that adding this program would be a “long obligation.”

Steve Wisloski said he was inclined to support the program, mainly based on establishing equity between the elementary schools, but said there is a concern that offering this program will have a “snowball effect” where the district begins to attract more families who have students with special needs which could, in turn, increase costs.

“That’s why it is so important to demonstrate outcomes,” he said.

Superintendent David Young said that each year, the “societal creep” becomes more challenging to balance.

“What am I to do on safety/security?” Young said, pointing to the fact that the proposed budget includes three FTE security personnel, an item that has been deemed necessary due to recent national events. This, coupled with more students coming to the district who have experienced trauma, has added complexities to budget planning.

In terms of staffing, the proposed budget includes a .29 FTE library media technician at Chamberlin School, a .12 FTE assistant mentoring coordinator, a .5 FTE guidance assistant at the high school, a .73 FTE office assistant in the operations and finance department, and adds five FTE teachers in the special education department; while also reduces nine paraeducators. The budget maintains current programming and facilities with only required maintenance included. Although the budget sees a 4.75 percent total increase, 3.07 percent of that total is attributable to health insurance increases and salary contingencies.

The board will continue to offer their feedback on the budget at their Jan. 9 special session in preparation for action at their Jan. 16 regular meeting. All budget discussions can be viewed on the local RETN cable access television channel.

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