The South Burlington School District is facing an $82,000 deficit, news that came as a surprise to the school board last week.
The board met on June 14 and was joined by district finance director Gary Marckres and business manager Amadee Denton to discuss what Superintendent David Young called the “current reality” surrounding the district’s financial status. Denton said the district’s general fund was estimated to be $179,000 over budget, with special revenue funds coming in at $97,000 under budget, resulting in a net difference of an $82,000 deficit.
Denton cited several errors that led to the deficit, the first being $190,000 that was budgeted as revenue, but were in fact internal transfer numbers. She also mentioned the healthcare recapture of $164,000 that the district will not be receiving from the State Agency of Education, which was not budgeted as a loss of revenue at any point. Lastly, on the expense side, there was a clerical error in the input of numbers where a dropped zero caused the historical spending budget to fall $100,000 short. In addition, several areas were under-budgeted, including vocational tuition. In an attempt to remedy the situation, school principals collaborated with administrators to freeze expenditures for teachers and staff at the end of March.
The situation seems to have added to the recent communication breakdown between the administration and the school board.
“I’m really surprised that we knew the magnitude of this (deficit) in March and the board is not hearing about it until almost the end of the fiscal year,” board clerk Bridget Burkhardt said. “I feel like there needs to be some other process in place where we have a check-in somewhere earlier in the year.”
Specialization-based curriculum was a heavily-discussed topic over the last four board meetings. A proposed change to the teaching model at South Burlington’s three public elementary schools, Orchard, Rick Marcotte Central and Chamberlin, the new curriculum model would involve training certain teachers to focus primarily on math or literacy. Students would take math or literacy – like art, music or physical education – but daily and with different teachers.
The plan was broached by the board in early May and planned to begin this fall, but was met with organized concern by faculty and parents alike, who said the district did not share enough information or involve them in the decision-making process.
At the next meeting on May 15, Superintendent David Young announced that the district would put a pause on the plan.
The district director of learning Michael Martin and director of educational support systems Joanne Godek attended the June 14 meeting to provide more insight into the “Multi-Tiered Systems of Educational Supports” and how specialization fits in.
Martin and Godek used a slide presentation to make their case for teachers to focus on specialization. The “why” was identified as “all children will read and have numeracy skills by grade 3,” and was supported with reasons for the school district to change their current programs. First on the list of reasons was that, although Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium scores compare well to the state average, 1 in 5 students are not meeting proficiency. Other reasons included the need for a “sharp focus on content-area expertise instead of trying to do it all,” a need for consistency among routines and expectations across all classrooms and the idea that learning outcomes will improve if teachers work collaboratively.
Burkhardt shared her feelings that the question of why specialization is the solution for improving proficiency was still not being answered, reminding the board and public that many parents and teachers are concerned with the possible shift. She also dismissed the idea that only the parents of successful kids were hesitant over the change, noting that it’s actually the parents of struggling or emotionally-fragile children who have been most vocal with her about specialization.
Martin assured the board that they are not looking to “barrel ahead” with specialization, but rather bring people together to talk further. He also responded to Burkhardt’s comments, saying, “We are not going to do anything that puts at risk the relationships of students and their well-being and the strong social-emotional approach … in this district. I want the board and the community to hear that we are not going to move away from that.”
Martin also noted the importance of getting the teachers on board with the plan if they are to move forward.
“In my professional experience, I’ve never seen an initiative that’s successful if all the teachers hate it,” he said. “I think that is a deal breaker, so we need to keep the conversations going.”
To view a recording of the full meeting, visit www.retn.org.
The next school board meeting will be held on Wednesday, July 10, at a special time of 12 p.m., followed by a regular 7 p.m. meeting on Aug. 7. Both will take place at Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School library.