School Board Update

Hi Neighbors — As most of you are aware, this is the time of year when the School Board finalizes its proposed budget for Town Meeting Day. The Board met last Tuesday night (Jan. 9) and after a flurry of activity, adopted its budget for the 07-08 school year. Here are the relevant details of what the Board is proposing:

* The total amount of the proposed budget is $41,574,566. While that is a 9.08% increase over last year’s budget, it is important to understand that the District’s revenues from non-local sources (primarily the state) have also risen substantially — 7.95% over last year. It is also significant to note that our equalized pupil count has increased by 55.56 over last year, increasing state revenues to the district)

* For the purposes of the education property tax, taxpayers fall into one of two groups: those with household income above $85,000, and those below that figure. For those households with income below $85,000, the school property tax rate is unchanged from last year — 2.08% of household income.

* For those taxpayers with household incomes above $85,000, the School Board is seeking an estimated increase of 6.73 cents per $100 of property values. The proposed increase is about 3.5 cents lower than last year’s increase (which was 10.28 cents), and translates into an increase of approximately $135 for a home valued at $200,000 if the school budget passes.

* If the budget does not pass, the District is authorized under the Burlington City Charter to spend an amount equal to its revenues for the coming year (the so-called “soft landing”). Due to the effects of Act 68’s common level of appraisal, taxpayers above the income threshold will still see an estimated 5.05 cent increase in their education property tax if the District relies on the “soft landing.” Thus, on Town Meeting Day, voters are effectively voting on a new local money estimated increase of 1.68 cents, or just under $34 per year on a home valued at $200,000.

The Board’s 2007-08 budget was built around the following goals:

* Maintain quality education programs for all students in 6 elementary schools, 2 middle schools, 1 high school, 1 technical center, and 2 alternative programs
* Absorb cost shifts where mandated from federal and state grants
* Maintain a safe physical infrastructure through preventive maintenance
* Continue to maximize cost savings

To accomplish those goals, the Board made the following budgetary choices over the last month:

1. Increased preventative maintenance funds to 1.5% of the District’s general budget, as required by existing Board policy ($295,000). That increase will extend the life of the District’s buildings, help maintain safe facilities for our children, and reduce the number of building emergencies that lead to the use of capital funds and additional bond requests.

2. Increased the number of ESL teachers in the District to address the growing need for such services. Again, it should be pointed out that a significant portion of the District’s increased revenues for the coming year is the result of the rise in the number of ESL students.

3. Restored proposed cuts to library paraeducators in response to overwhelming public support and concern over the loss of library services in the elementary schools.

4. Proposed to fund a $225,000 financial shortfall in the popular after-school program. The shortfall is due to a loss of grant funding. Although there was some discussion of creating a sliding fee structure to support the program, there is some skepticism about whether there are enough families who can afford to support the program. Approximately 60% of the District’s students participate in the after-school program, and it plays a significant role in supporting the work of the District’s ESL students. The administration will continue to study alternative funding mechanisms over the coming year.

5. Prepared to absorb increased administrative costs ($80,000) related to the start-up of the Catamount Health Program.

To help understand just a few of the budgetary pressures faced by the District, here are some demographic snapshots:

* 3846.53 equalized pupils (increase of 55.56 equalized pupils from 3790.97 in FY 07)
– 500 English Language Learners; 27+ languages spoken in our schools
– 515 Special Education students
– Approx. 48% poverty districtwide

* 72% of local budget is spent on direct instruction to students
– Class sizes: 18-22 elementary, 20-24 Middle
– 2/3 of 2nd graders met or exceeded the state standard in reading (Spring 06 DRA)

* 19 buildings: over 40 years to 106 years old

The proposed 2007-08 budget will accomplish one other important objective: maintain the current structure of the school system for an additional year while the Administration formulates plans to promote socio-economic integration in the District. Superintendent Collins expects to present her ideas to the Board in March or April, and the Board will announce its plans for public hearings at that time.

If anyone has any questions or comments, please feel free to e-mail me (flane@bsdvt.org) or Commissioner Amy Werbel (awerbel@bsdvt.org).

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

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