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.
– 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.
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.
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.
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).
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!
- Senior Director of IT
- Grounds Foreman
- Principal Substitute
- Additional operational budget restructuring
- 1.0 FTE Business class
- 1.0 FTE PE (reduces from 4 to 3 teachers)
- 1.0 FTE at Burlington Technical College
- Golf and Alpine Skiing
- 1 FTE at Flynn for 2nd grade (2 teachers can serve the 44 incoming students, this would put the ration at 22 students in each class, the AOE maximum)
- 1 FTE at SA for 1st and 2nd grade (reducing teachers from 4 to 3; 3 teachers serving 60 students)
- 1 FTE at Smith for 5th grade (3 to 2 teachers; 2 teachers for 46 students. The AOE max for this grade level is 25 per class)
The news was spread across Burlington’s Front Porch Forums last night from School Board Chair Mark Porter: “We have been informed that Burlington taxpayers will face a projected tax increase approaching double digits this coming year. This increase is primarily the result of the legislative environment of a $50M education fund deficit. Additionally, this increase is without adding a single item from the list of strategic needs presented to us at the December meeting by the Superintendent. We will know more at our next Board meeting this Tuesday, January 9th, at Hunt Middle School at 6:00 PM.”
The board was sounding the alarm, finally, an alarm that many of us had been concerned about for months as the news from Montpelier about the state of the education fund spilled from VT Digger, the BFP, and Governor Scott himself. But what are the actual numbers we’re looking at and why? Some of these questions were answered at last night’s City Council meeting, where Superintendent Obeng, Director of Finance Nathan Lavery, and Chair Mark Porter made a presentation about the budget. Essentially, if the Burlington School Board proposes a budget with no new initiatives, essentially keeping our budget level or maintaining the status quo, Burlington taxpayers will face a 7%+ increase just from the dollar yield decline from the state and the CLA adjustment from the city. If the school board wants to include the additional investments that were proposed at the December 20, 2017 budget meeting, then the tax increase moves toward the double digit 10% figure.
One thing is certain, Montpelier is the driving force that will make or break a school district at this point. Governor Scott has created a financial scenario by using one-time money that Nathan Lavery referred to as “a fiscal cliff” (note this was a reference to the economics of using one-time money, he did not reference the Governor specifically, that’s me).
For this budget cycle, Burlington taxpayers are stuck. There is no way to get below the 7% increase. There may be slight adjustments depending on how the final CLA number comes out but the Governor has forced all school districts to absorb a tax increase because of short-sighted planning and a lack of understanding of the education system.
Our options in Burlington are limited. Accept the status quo or realize that we must continue to invest in our community by strengthening our school district to attract businesses and families of all races, ethnicities, and genders. Only by taking this approach can we grow our overall population which will help lessen the burden on taxpayers, stem the tide of students leaving for private schools, and families moving out-of-state.
We have to make taking on Montpelier a priority in the coming year. We can no longer sit back and just accept what happens to our community from the state. It’s time to challenge the Act 60/68 formula assumptions, particularly the weighting of EL students, and consider whether or not our PILOT money should be taken back through the legal system.
Voters have a choice this March. Stay on the same path and accept the status quo or make a choice for new, progressive reform that considers everyone – taxpayers, teachers, students, families – as one community.
I’ve just returned from tonight’s special board meeting on the FY19 school budget. I’m extremely disappointed and frustrated by what happened at this meeting. Let me explain why.
First, let me begin with my expectations. As most of you know, the state education fund is faced with a $50M+ shortage, which our normal taxes will not fix. This has led Governor Scott to announce a statewide increase in property taxes of more than 7%, or approximately 9 cents based on the latest numbers. In addition, Governor Scott called for all school districts to level their funding for the year. When a district levels funding this leads to forced budget cuts. Based on the information coming out of Montpelier on a near daily basis, I felt today’s budget meeting was critical and would address many items of concern. 1) If forced to level our budget, how much money will we have to cut from our budget? 2) What budget areas have been identified as possible targets for cuts? 3) How much damage will these cuts do to direct student services? 4) What is the worst case scenario and the best?
Instead, we were presented with what I can only describe as a wishlist of approximately $1.7M (no total was given on the slides, only verbally when a board member asked) in new investments for the district. Now, don’t misinterpret what I’m saying. This information is valuable but this was all that was presented for the budget. Yes, there was some discussion on what these items represented (the full budget presentation will be available to the public and I’ll happily post it here as well), what our loss of federal funds has been over the years (again, something that couldn’t be answered), and the pressure from Montpelier. But, as a district we need to be prepared for some very serious cuts. I don’t know if we are or are not. The board gave no hint if they’ve looked at any of this information. Rather they moved on to FY19 performance pay evaluations for the superintendent.
So, as we face an uncertain budget, the board spent a substantial amount of time debating the two evaluation standards that should be used in FY19 for the superintendent’s performance pay. For those unfamiliar with this, performance pay is an additional $2,500 annual pay the superintendent is entitled to on a discretionary basis by the board on top of his annual salary, automatic CPI increase, and unused vacation payout. In FY18 Mr. Obeng’s performance was evaluated on these goals/measures:
1) To develop an Employment Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Hiring Plan to increase the representation of teachers of color in the Burlington School District with measurable goals.
2) To develop and begin implementing a plan detailing actions to improve and promote a positive work culture and climate in each school building and in the central office, in support of central and school-based administrators and their staff.
The FY19 goals/measures on the table tonight were:
1) Demonstrate significant progress towards implementing the Employment Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Hiring Plan outlined in FY18
2) Make measurable progress on improving District climate, based on the plan you developed in FY18.
There was spirited debate on using the terms “significant” and “measurable” or using both. I won’t go into the entire discourse because you’d immediately notice how subjective these terms are rather than quantifiable. You’ll also note the poor timing of this discussion given our current financial situation.
Word is there will be some type of budget released to the public once we are farther along in the process, but how long do we have to wait for our concerns to be addressed? Will we only have a worst-case scenario presented to us when there is no time to weigh in?
Please contact your school board commissioner and ask questions. What cuts are we facing if we have to level fund? Why are these numbers not available when other school districts have had this information available for weeks? Why aren’t we prepared?
Here is the presentation from that meeting.