January 22, 2018 Board Meeting Summary

Morning All. Another long school board budget meeting last night at Hunt.  (Full disclosure, I missed the first 30 minutes of public comment due to an earlier commitment). Here is the full presentation (PDF) from last night.

Public Comment
– A large number of public speakers came out in support of the alpine skiing program at BHS, and some for golf. This included current students participating in the sports, parents of current and former children that have/had participated, etc.
– Interventionists came to advocate for their positions in the schools, why their work is so vital, how many students they touch during the day, etc.
– One teacher spoke and debated the point that there are 4.0 FTE PE teachers at BHS. She says there are only 3 and BHS would be reduced to 2 with the proposed cut there, making it more difficult to serve all students including EL students. PE is a graduation requirement and there is finally some movement on giving credit to students participating in varsity, and possibly JV, sports.

Board Reflections
During Board Reflections, Liz Curry said that the Public Assets Institute (PAI) noted in a meeting in Montpelier earlier on Monday that 6 cents of the increase we’re seeing this year has to do with four factors that are completely out of Burlington’s control. No further detail was given but we should be able to find more detail from PAI. Paul Cillo, the president of PAI, also gave testimony to the Senate Education Committee on January 19th on education funding and Act 60/68. In addition, a board member highlights the increased burden on taxpayers to fund public education. When Act 60 was established in 1997, 55% of money in the education fund  came from property taxes. Now that number has risen to 67%.

The survey results were reviewed but unfortunately they are not included in the official board presentation. Here are some key points (please keep in mind this was a self-selecting survey so it is not statistically significant, nor representative of Burlington by Ward) – Also, if anything is slightly off, my apologies, I was writing furiously!

– There were a total of 366 respondents, 219 left comments
– Some outreach was done to seniors via hard copy surveys
– The majority of respondents were aged 35-44 (37%), followed by those 45-54. All age brackets were represented.
– Majority of respondents were elementary school parents (55%), followed by middle school parents (18%), and high school parents (16.7%)
-Ward 5 had the highest response rate at 30%, but all wards were represented. (THANK YOU WARD 5!!)
– 51% of respondents said they would support a budget with enhancements and incentives greater than 7%, 19% said they would support a budget at 7%, and 29.5% would support a budget below 7%.

There was a great deal of discussion around athletics and future work that needs to happen here. Essentially, the district has made cuts to academics and almost every other area but athletics. What has not happened with athletics is a top to bottom look at how athletics works in our district in terms of inclusion and creating true student athletes. How do we engage all families and students? Superintendent Obeng also spoke about his desire to make athletics an elementary through high school experience. This is sure to be a larger discussion and examination in the future. Ultimately, skiing and golf are back in the budget. This was only 20K which is less than one-tenth of a percent of the overall budget.

Interventionists and Class Sizes
Stephanie Phillips, Senior Director of Curriculum, and Victor Prussack, Assistant to Director of Curriculum, joined the meeting to talk about these two issues. Stephanie spoke directly about what the original plan was for interventionists in the district and what has actually transpired.

Interventionists Original Plan



She went on to describe next steps and what the district’s new interventionist model would look like keeping 6 or more interventionists on staff. This model had never been revealed to the board before last night and there was clearly some uncertainty around it and making a decision based on such new information.

Next Steps for Achievement Gap


New Plan for Interventionists


Some questions arose such as what happens while we transition to this new model, particularly at the 4/5 level? That hasn’t been fully fleshed out. It may be that those needing intervention at that level get it through the after school program or other outside interventionists. Also, no deep dive has been done on how many staff it would actually take to implement this model because we don’t know how many students/minutes per day/per school etc. There was some discussion about using the behavior coaches at the 4/5/6 level in the interim since at 7th grade students switch to PLPs. It seemed clear that this plan was in a formative stage and many questions remain. Several board members either didn’t understand the model at all or said they needed time to absorb or “digest” it.

On class sizes, Victor explained what he does for the district including projections on class sizes, where consolidations can be made within a given grade due to normal fluctuations, what the K sizes and number of classrooms are needed each year in each school, recommended staffing allocation based on enrollment and also on the district’s school equity index that takes into account free and reduced lunch and EL student populations. Next year, we have low class sizes in 11 grades across the elementary schools and could potentially consolidate or reduce 7.0 FTE. Looking at it closer and to have the least impact, the decision was made to go with the three recommendations at Smith, Flynn, and SA. Also, by reducing these three positions, it does not put these schools teacher ratios out of line with the other elementary schools (again, this is not my opinion, I’m just reporting on what was presented).

Proposed Elementary School Reductions


Elementary School Teacher Ratios

I think the most interesting piece here was learning that even if these three teaching positions are re-instated, they will not necessarily go back to Smith, SA, and Flynn. As Mr. Obeng said, these teachers would be placed based on need or “hot spots” and that will be determined by principals across the district. When concerns were brought up about larger class sizes contributing to achievement gaps it was mentioned that the achievement gaps are the highest at IAA, SA, and Champlain.

So from a budget perspective we’re looking at several scenarios, and options in between. We started here last week:

Tax increase: 6.92% based on the cuts proposed and enhancements added in. For taxpayers this is $287 on a $231K home (this is the number going forward for all options)

Option 1 – add back 3 teaching positions: Tax rate 7.32%; tax impact $303
Option 2 – add back 6 teaching positions: Tax rate 7.68%; tax impact $318
Option 3: Add back 9 teaching positions; Tax rate 8.05%; tax impact 8.05%

From here there was a lot of comment and questions from the board. A couple overarching themes in questions were concerns about the new intervention plan and needing to make reductions to the enhancements, which has not been done yet (so far there has only been other funding sources found for some items).

A reminder, that the board has the right to change these options and say, “we’d like to add 7 teaching positions, and cut these enhancements from the list and table them for next year.” Nothing has been voted on yet. That’s for tonight’s meeting.

Thanks for reading and reach out with any questions!