School Board Update

Hi Neighbors — The December School Board meeting is traditionally the longest of the year, and this week’s meeting was no exception; a variety of challenging issues kept the Board at work until 11:15 p.m. Not surprisingly, this school board update is a little longer than usual as well.

The meeting started off on a high note, as Superintendent Collins presented to the Board two state championship teams from the District: the Edmunds Middle School spelling bee team (2d year in a row) and the Burlington High School football team. Both teams received a standing ovation from the Board and members of the public for their accomplishments.

The main focus of the public comment period was the District’s after-school program. Some of the grants that support the program are coming to an end, and the recommendation of the Finance Committee last week was that the District replace those funds through the implementation of an access-fee program. Several people expressed concern that the implementation of a fee program would reduce the number of people participating or fail to adequately fund the after-school program altogether.

In her report to the Board, Supt. Collins announced that the Champlain Valley Superintendent’s Association unanimously voted to adopt Burlington’s truancy program in all of its member schools. Not only is this a strong ratification of the excellence of Burlington’s program, but it will also help the area schools better coordinate their response to student truancy.

Supt. Collins also asked BHS principal Amy Mellencamp to present some information to the Board regarding the decision to allow the Vermont National Guard to set up an inflatable obstacle course for use in high school gym classes over the last week. A number of city residents and parents have expressed concern about the Guard’s presence in the school. The Board discussed the issue from a variety of different angles, including: whether the obstacle course (which is labeled with the Guard’s phone number and web site) constituted a violation of the District’s corporate gift policy and whether the Guard’s presence was a “recruitment” visit. No formal action was taken by the Board with respect to the Guard’s visit, but both Principal Mellencamp and Superintendent Collins said that the concerns of the community and the Board would be taken into consideration in deciding whether to bring the obstacle course back for future gym classes.

The Finance Committee report began the news that the District was the recipient of the estate of Robert James Campbell, a homeless man who recently died intestate in Burlington (under Vermont law, the estate of anyone who dies without a will goes to the local school district). Among Mr. Campbell’s few possessions were approximately 2,000 negatives and photographs of jazz legends from the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s. A UVM grad is assisting the District in evaluating whether it makes sense to sell the collection or license it (15 of the photos will be featured in an upcoming book by Vermont author Chris Bohjalian). The Board voted last night to dedicate any proceeds from Mr. Campbell’s photo to a fund in his name to promote music education in the District.

The Board also had a brief discussion about a letter from the State of Vermont informing the District that it will need to reimburse the State for construction costs used to build the Ira Allen building on Colchester Avenue. According to the State, the District will be expected to repay just over $410,000 if it sells the Ira Allen building.

The bulk of the Finance Committee report was devoted to the FY08 budget (which will fund the schools from July 1, 2007 – June 30, 2008). My initial motion on behalf of the Finance Committee was that the Board approve a budget for public discussion in the amount of $40,993,566. Superintendent Collins then presented a memorandum to the Board detailing her proposals for the upcoming budget. Superintendent Collins said that her proposed budget is based on four priorities: 1) to maintain quality education for all Burlington children; 2) to absorb cost shifts from federal and state mandates; 3) to maintain a safe physical infrastructure through preventative maintenance; and 4) to continue to maximize cost-savings.

The proposed budget for FY08 is $2.88 million higher than the current budget, representing an increase of 7.56%. The primary factors in the cost increase are labor costs, health care, and a substantial increase in the District’s preventative maintenance budget ($295,000). The last item is particularly important, since preventative maintenance has been underfunded for many years, and a lot of work needs to be done to make sure that the schools remain healthy and safe.

Only one change was made to the proposed budget: Commissioner Werbel made a motion to add in $112,500 to help support the after-school program, and the Board approved the motion. That amount is half of what is needed to replace grant funds that are ending, so the balance will need to be made up through access fees. Superintendent Collins pointed out that the remainder of the grants that fund the after-school program may end next year; if that happens, the Board will have to decide whether to add the program to the local budget or try to run it entirely through access fees. More information will be available later in the year.

As a result of Commissioner Werbel’s motion, the proposed budget increased to $41,106,066, or an increase of 7.81% over the current budget. The Board is holding two special meetings to give members of the public an opportunity to discuss the budget. The dates are Tuesday, December 19, and Tuesday, January 2. Both meetings will be held at Burlington High School at 7 p.m. The Board will hold its final discussion and vote on the FY08 budget on Tuesday, January 9 at Ira Allen on Colchester Avenue.

Frederick Lane
Front Porch Forum
December 15, 2006

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