During its meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 15, school board members unanimously approved a proposed Fiscal Year 2021 budget and three articles, one of which includes ballot language, to enable the $209.6 million joint middle/high school and athletic complex to be presented to voters.
“It’s challenging to be bringing that budget this particular year to the community, I do think it reflects the needs of the school district accurately,” Board Chair Elizabeth Fitzgerald said. “If you could look back five years and say these would hit at the same time I think it would have been a perfect storm, and here it is.”
The school board will present taxpayers with $55,865,686 million budget proposal for FY21, a 7.96% increase over the previous year’s budget, following a unanimous approval during the board’s Jan. 15 meeting. The proposal calls for an estimated 11.22% tax rate increase over the previous year’s budget. Taxes for the owner of a home valued at $336,110 – the average value in South Burlington – without income sensitivity, would be $5,993; a $605 increase over FY20. For the owner of a $231,356 condo – the average value in South Burlington – those taxes, without income sensitivity, would total $4,125; a $416 increase over FY20.
The property tax rate impact is based on several factors in the school budget through both state and local expenditures. This includes Equalized Pupils, this year accounting for an estimated 1.67% tax rate decrease, set by the Vermont Agency of Education. The agency also sets the yield, which this year accounts for an estimated 2.41% tax rate decrease. The decrease in the Common Level of Appraisal from 93.28% to 89.92% – set by the state – results in 4% of the tax rate increase.
School-controlled factors include the total proposed expenditures, which account for a 10.18% tax rate increase, estimated revenues which accounts for a .03% tax rate increase and the addition of deficit from the FY19 budget which increases the tax rate 1.09%.
Cost drivers in this year’s budget include health care and benefits. Health care premiums increased 12.9% for the district. With adjustments due to Act 11 statewide healthcare and additional full-time educators, the overall increase in health expenditures is anticipated to be 17.77% more than FY20 totals. And three collective bargaining groups are currently in negotiations.
District enrollment has also increased. During the current 2019-20 school year, South Burlington schools have seen an increase of 35 students in grades k-12 from what was projected at this time last year, the budget packet says. Next school year, enrollment growth is forecasted to add 68 students.
A growing number of students means there is a growing number of needs in the district schools to maintain services and class sizes. For this reason, the proposed budget includes the addition of teachers to help maintain class sizes.
The breakdown represents: two additional classroom teachers at the Central School accounting for $163,812 of the budget increase; one classroom teacher at Chamberlin totaling $83,812 of the increase; a 0.2 Full Time Equivalent in Orchard’s guidance department accounting for $20,080 of this increase; a 0.8 Full-Time Equivalent core teacher add at the high school totaling $64,000; and a 0.10 district nurse liaison totaling $12,028.
Also added are two campus safety positions accounting for $93,811 of the budget. These employees would join four existing Full-Time Equivalent campus safety workers in addressing safety needs at each of the district’s schools.
The total cost of those staff additions amounts to $437,543, adding 1.08% to the total tax rate, according to Superintendent David Young.
The budget also includes facility stewardship needs with minimal investment in the high school and middle school, those items account for $516,173 of the proposed budget.
Other budget adds include stipends to facilitate Proficiency based Learning and Universal Design for Learning work in core subjects at the middle school. There are also three athletic event supervisory positions, which account for about $9,000 of the budget to be split across the three individuals. Also in the proposed budget is the repayment of interest on pre-bond expenses for the new middle/high school and athletic complex proposal. The school established a line of credit for $350,000 to flesh out the new building proposal, including financial advisors, designs by Dore and Whittier Architects, an independent cost estimate by PC Construction Company as well as a communications group, according to Young. That amount had not been included in the FY20 budget. The FY21 budget calls for $9,800 to be paid on interest on the credit however, Young explained, if the new building proposal passes the district can repay the credit using the bond. The $9,800 set aside in the FY21 budget would then be absorbed into the General Fund. Other items in the budget include $30,900 for human resource software and $15,000 for RAVE mobile security software – a districtwide safety alert notification system.
FY21 budget revenues are anticipated to decrease about $12,000 from FY20 totals. Some of that fluctuation is due to funding decisions made at the state level as well as conservative estimates on the school’s end in terms of the number of tuition students who will enroll next year, according to Young.
“There’s a multitude of factors that can go up and down,” he said.
Superintendent’s thoughts on the Budget
Superintendent Young offered his thoughts on the budget proposal in a recent interview with The Other Paper.
“It’s higher than I would have liked to have had,” he said. “That said, the impact that healthcare, specifically has, the impact that the Common Level of Appraisal has, are things that we don’t have direct control over as a school entity.”
The Common Level of Appraisal alone counts for about 4% of the proposed budget’s tax rate increase, he said. And while the district does have control over the increase in expenditure for students, the additions in this year’s budget “are related to student-specific needs,” Young said. Growing enrollment has called for more staff to ensure appropriate class sizes for the size of the academic space. Young said it’s not always the case that growing enrollment necessitates more staff, in the middle school, for example, the district has been able to accommodate enrollment fluctuations without adding staff to the budget proposal. But in the elementary schools, additional teachers are needed to keep classes appropriately sized for the size of the classrooms. Campus security is another important add in this year’s budget proposal, Young said.
“Important to me is that the budget continues to provide the opportunities to students that we feel is critically important to have our kids meet our ends,” he said, adding the district hears back from alumni who say their South Burlington education prepared them academically, socially and as citizens for their next steps in life.
“This budget represents that continuation and it does take into account increased enrollments and some of those societal issues such as safety and security,” Young said.