Kingsley Fitzgerald

Five-year-old Kingsley Fitzgerald looks under the voting booths around her while her mother Caitlin Rutherford marks her ballot in South Burlington on Town Meeting Day.

Along with approving the $62.5 million proposed school budget, South Burlington voters also approved a bond vote for nearly $15 million dollars for capital infrastructure needs to meet enrollment demands.

The budget, which is a 7.17 percent increase from last year, was approved 2,286 to 995 while the bond vote was OK’d 2,237 to 1,096.

“We currently literally do not have roofs to put over our student’s heads … at this point in time we cannot accommodate more students,” district superintendent Violet Nichols said in explaining the severity of the situation at the informational meeting on Monday night.

Six million of the bond is proposed for the implementation of eight zero energy modulars at Rick Marcotte Central School and Orchard Elementary School. Although the original projected cost was only $1.3 million, the total jumped to more than $6 million based on several factors not originally budgeted: the increased cost of labor, supply chain issues and the inability to get building materials.

Since last fall, an enrollment committee, composed of community members and school personnel, has been working on finding solutions for the elementary schools currently exceeding the state-recommended 85 percent capacity by more than 100 students. And in August, the board approved the plan to move forward with the zero energy modules to provide an immediate, albeit temporary, solution to a longer-term problem.

“Backpacks are in the hallways, students don’t have hooks or lockers,” Nichols said. “We are using project rooms as full classrooms which is really limiting the teacher’s ability to instruct students and certainly not in the innovative ways that we are known for.”

The remaining bond of $8.55 million dollars is for various capital improvements — a detailed multi-year tracking mechanism for projecting short and long-term projects — that includes roofing, HVAC systems, window replacements, bathrooms, and work to parking lots, sidewalks and kitchens. Although the board had considered going to bond separately, they ultimately concluded that going out for one bond would better meet all capital needs and improvements.

“We can’t say that any one of these needed facilities issues is more important than the other,” Nichols said. “Windows, roofs and literal spaces such as the ZEMs to learn in all allow students in our system to continue to learn.”

Although no principal payments will be required until 2025, the district will be responsible for two separate interest-only payments amounting to $436,762 for this fiscal year. Next year, the principal payment plus the interest payment could cause that number to more than triple.

Ninety-one percent of the modular classroom costs will be covered by impact fees, levies paid by developers. The bond will expedite the purchase of the new modules with the hope of having the modules in place by next school year and impact fees projected to cover the financing of the bond.

“I’ve spent a lot of time walking in these five buildings and they are not representative of the type of facility we would expect South Burlington to have given the stellar reputation of our school system and education programming,” Tim Jarvis, senior director of operations and finance, said. “I think it’s critical that everyone understands this is not a final fix by any means, this is a short-term requirement to bring our facilities up to a standard that we can live with.”

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexual language.
Don't threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be proactive. Use the "Report" link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.