School Board Update

Dear neighbors —

It’s been a hectic time recently on the School Board, as we’ve tried to finalize the budget that will be submitted to the voters on Town Meeting Day in March. After a series of well-attended public hearings in late December and early January, the Board adopted a budget on Tuesday night that differs somewhat from the proposal that was made at our December meeting. As a result, the total amount of the budget is slightly higher than initially discussed.

The two most significant additions are to restore the principal position at Barnes for the coming year, and to add back into the budget three of the four social workers currently funded by the District’s PASS grant (which is expiring this year). There was widespread support among community members and the school building administrators for both changes, on the grounds that the services provided by the principal and the social workers are essential to children at Barnes and around the District. To help offset the cost of the restored positions, the Board chose instead to cut an additional elementary teacher, a 6th grade teacher at Hunt Middle School, reduce the central office advertising budget, and reduce this year’s set-aside for tutoring under the No Child Left Behind Act.

For those keeping score at home, the 2006-07 school budget now includes the following major changes: the reduction of 2 elementary teachers, 1 middle school teacher (grade 6), 1 reading coach, 1 behavior specialist, 12 paraeducators, 1 social worker, 1 librarian (shared services between Barnes and Wheeler), a reduction in summer school money at the high school, cuts in technology, a smaller central office budget for job advertisements, and a reduction in curriculum funds. In addition, the end of the QUEST grant reduces one QUEST coach position and significantly affects the funding for the ESL summer school program. It should be pointed out that the Finance Committee also set aside a long list of reasonable requests from building administrators for educational resources, including a variety of new positions (maintenance, strings, etc.).

The bottom line for the upcoming budget is $38,113,325, which represents a 6.42% increase over the current 2005-06 budget. The most difficult factors, of course, are the recent city-wide appraisal and the Common Level of Appraisal for property in Burlington. The CLA for the coming year has been set at 110.66%, which when applied to the proposed budget, results in an education tax rate increase of $0.1028. This means that for each $100,000 in homestead property value, the Board is proposing an increase in school taxes of $102.80. For those South End residents who fall within the income sensitivity portion of Act 68 (additional information is available on the District website, www.bsdvt.org), the education tax is capped at 2.08% of their household income.

The process of pulling together this budget has been challenging. The District is facing a number of difficult and persistent issues, including reduced federal funding, reduced enrollments, rapidly increasing health care and special ed costs, and pending labor negotiations with all of its employees. I can say with confidence that this budget represents the Board’s best effort to strike a balance between the goal of providing a quality education to all of the students in the District and the fiscal constraints faced by Burlington residents. If the budget does not pass on Town Meeting Day, then the Board will face the decision of resubmitting a budget to the voters or falling back on the so-called “soft landing.” Under a charter change adopted last year, the Board can elect to operate the schools under last year’s approved budget plus any additional funds received from the state under Act 68. That amount for 2006-07 is $37,233,324, which means that in order to operate under that budget, the Board would have to cut an additional $880,001 from the current proposal.

Even under the soft landing, the CLA would push the educational tax rate increase for Burlington residents to $0.0745, or $74.50 per $100,000 in homestead property value. The difference, then, between what the Board is proposing and the minimum educational tax increase for the coming year is $28.30, or just over $2 per month, for each $100,000 in property value. While recognizing the impact of reappraisal on homeowners, I sincerely hope that the voters in the South End will continue their tradition of strong support for the Burlington schools.

One budget item that received considerable discussion during the course of Tuesday’s meeting was the pending renovation of the high school athletic fields. As many of you may know, the track and surrounding fields are effectively condemned and cannot be used. Last year, Burlington voters overwhelmingly approved a bond to renovate the facility and initial bids are due this month for the project. Included in the 2006-07 budget is a line item in the amount of $325,000 to begin paying for those renovations. Commissioners Chris Haessly and Marissa Caldwell proposed delaying the awarding of the contract to investigate whether less expensive renovations could be done. After much debate, including strong support for the project from BHS principal Amy Mellencamp, the Board voted to give the Finance Committee authority to open the submitted bids this month and award the construction contract. Although the schedule is tight, the plan is to have the fields renovated and ready for use on September 1. Principal Mellencamp reported that Seahorse football games are already scheduled for the new field, and the Board looks forward to cheering them on.

Earlier this evening (Wednesday), the Board met in executive session to interview candidates for the position of District superintendent. The Board had identified three people it wanted to interview but one–Donald Carlisle from New York–withdrew for personal reasons. The two remaining candidates, Acting Superintendent Jeannie Collins and former Colchester Superintendent Armando Vilaseca, each met with the Board for about an hour. There will be an opportunity for the public to meet with both candidates at the Burlington High School on Tuesday, January 17, from [3:30] to 5:45 p.m. A procedure is being developed to allow attendees to provide their input on the two candidates to the Board. Refreshments will be served. That evening, the Board will meet at the Ira Allen Building to discuss the candidates and may make its selection at that time. At 9:00 p.m., Chairman Hale, Acting Superintendent Collins, and I will present the 2006-07 budget to the Burlington City Council.

That’s all the news for the time being. If anyone has any questions, please let me know at flane@bsdvt.org.

Fred Lane
School Board Finance Chair
12 Catherine Street

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