School Commissioner Report

Hi neighbors — As most of you are obviously aware, there’s a lot going on with the School Board these days. Rather than try to squeeze everything into a single post-Board Meeting-post next week, here’s an update of what’s been happening since the start of the month.

Last Friday, the Board’s ad hoc Communication Committee (chaired by Ward 5 Board member Amy Werbel) released its report on the public engagement process. Committee members attended or hosted more than 40 meetings from June to November, and more than 1,000 people attended those meetings. At the five community conversation meetings, the Committee collected over 61 pages of single-spaced notes, along with 250 written questions. Online, 333 comments were posted to the Board’s discussion thread, 48 e-mails were sent to Superintendent Collins, and 40 online surveys were completed.

With the valuable assistance of its facilitator, Mary Jane Shelley of TriFocal Consulting, the Communications Committee created a brief summary of its work and posted it online (follow the Task Force link from the main page at www.bsdvt.org). Contained in the report are links to all of the materials collected by the Committee during the public engagement process. If anyone would like a CD sent to them with all the information, please call the School District Offices at 865-5332. In addition, two printed copies of the public engagement data are available for examination at District Headquarters at 150 Colchester Avenue.

The report of the ad hoc Communications Committee will be presented to the full Board at its November meeting on 11/14. To accommodate what we anticipate will be a large crowd, the Board meeting will be held at the library at Hunt Middle School. The meeting starts at 7 p.m., and as always, there will be an opportunity for public comment at the start of the meeting. It is important to make clear that the Board will not be making any decisions that evening on an implementation plan for socio-economic integration. In fact, a proposal will be presented to the Board to authorize Superintendent Collins to convene a working group to help her formulate implementation plans. Once that process is completed, the Board will present those plans to public for comment prior to making any decision.

I have been tremendously impressed with the level of public engagement in this process, and hope that it will continue in the weeks and months to come. Along with a number of other Board members, I attended the forum held this week at Hunt Middle School and found it very moving (and encouraging) that so many people would turn out on a weeknight to discuss a difficult but important topic for our city.

The other development that is worth covering now is the start of the Board’s budget process. The Finance Committee met last Tuesday and covered a large number of issues. Among the highlights:

  • Burlington Technical Center Director Mark Aliquo presented his proposal for next year’s Tech Center budget. He is asking for a 4% increase, in part to help fund an exciting new program in law enforcement and criminal justice. The new program is a two-year college preparatory program that will help prepare students for careers in law enforcement. The curriculum will include units on the court system, ethics, understanding diversity, criminal law and procedures, the history of law enforcement, and criminal investigations.
  • Superintendent Collins presented an overview of her initial draft of the 2007-08 budget. The major increases next year will be labor costs; the Administration is predicting a $1 million increase in salary costs and roughly $355,000 in health care (based on a predicted 10% rise). The Administration is also recommending that the Board fully fund its preventative maintenance line item, which will require an increased expenditure of just under $300,000.
  • The good news is a prediction (no guarantees) that the state will increase the base education grant (the amount the state provides to districts for each student) from $7,330 to $7,700. That is a significant increase, and if it is in fact delivered, that will largely offset the increased labor costs faced by the District. I will keep everyone posted on what the state elects to do.
  • Superintendent Collins reviewed the budgetary requests of the various building administrators. At the elementary school level, principals are looking for additional ESL teachers and help in keeping class size low. ESL is also a priority in the middle schools, as is additional help in teaching and coaching in math, science, and music. At the high school, the priorities are additional staff for science (at least one more AP chemistry section could be filled), math, and reading. The high school would also like to add an additional art teacher. As she puts together her final budget recommendation over the course of the coming month, Superintendent Collins will be balancing these various staffing requests.
  • The Finance Committee discussed two different resolutions. The first concerned a City Council resolution opposing a proposal by various state Republican legislators to repeal the statewide property tax. The Finance Committee agreed with the City Council and voted to recommend that the full Board endorse the Council’s resolution. The second resolution dealt with Governor Douglas’s proposal to cap school budgets at fixed percentage. The Governor proposes to cap 2008 budgets to 4% and 2009 budgets to 3.5%. School Districts could only exceed those percentages with the support of more than 60% of people voting on Town Meeting Day. The Finance Committee voted to recommend to the full Board that it adopt a resolution opposing the Governor’s proposal. Among other drawbacks, it completely fails to recognize or address the myriad cost factors that inexorably push up school budgets (including health care, energy costs, unfunded state and federal mandates, etc.)
  • Lastly, the Finance Committee discussed the efforts of the District to sell and/or lease the Taft School and the Ira Allen Building. The status of the Taft School is currently in the hands of the Probate Court, which is resolving questions regarding the District’s current and proposed uses and a lawsuit by two homeless men claiming that the property should revert to the “homeless men of Burlington.” Given the unsettled nature of that dispute and the myriad possibilities for reorganizing the District to achieve socio-economic integration, the Finance Committee voted to recommend to the full Board that it delay any action on either Taft or Ira Allen for another year. That will give Superintendent Collins the time and flexibility to look at the resources of the entire District when formulating implentation plans for SEI.

The Board will not take any action on the budget on November 14. Superintendent Collins will continue her work and present a recommended budget to the Finance Committee on December 5, and the full Board will vote on it at the meeting on December 12. Over the next month, the Board will hold three public hearings on the budget and then will vote on its final version of the budget at its January meeting. That is the budget that will be presented to the voters on Town Meeting Day in March.

If anyone has any questions, please feel free to contact me or Amy Werbel (awerbel@bsdvt.org). Look for Volume II in your inbox next week…

Fred Lane
Ward 5 School Commissioner
12 Catherine Street
660-4918
flane@bsdvt.org

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