South Burlington resident Annie Leupp lives on a fixed income. She is concerned about what the school’s budget proposal – and upcoming bond asks – will mean for her and the community.
She hopes the administration can get the budget to a “reasonable level” and understand current economic hardships due to COVID-19.
“If people couldn’t afford [an increase] before, they certainly can’t afford it now,” she said. “The community is no longer willing to watch while [the administration], continues to choose the luxury Cadillac, when we are here wondering if the rest of us are going to end up back in horse and buggy days.”
Last month, voters denied both the school’s fiscal year 2021 budget proposal – representing an estimated 11.22% tax rate impact– and its approximately $209.6 million bond proposal for a new middle/high school and athletic complex.
On March 25, school officials offered a revised budget proposal that represented a 6.8%, or $3,519,034, increase in total expense: equal to an estimated 9.74% tax rate hike.
For the owner of a $336,110 home, it would have accounted for an annual tax increase of $525; for the owner of a $231,356 condo, it would have meant an annual tax increase of $361.
A few people voiced their support of the proposed budget and the administration’s work to make reductions. But most attendees who offered comment said it was too large of an ask. Some asked the board to pursue a level-funded budget.
In order to create a budget commensurate to fiscal year 2020, the district would have to subtract more than $3.5 million from its budget, Superintendent David Young said.
That reduction would likely be realized by eliminating all middle/high school athletics and activities and about 30 faculty members, he added.
A group of 20 residents – including Leupp, John Stern and Sriram Srinivasan who spoke during the meeting – said it was possible for the district to have a level-funded budget without reducing faculty. That group submitted suggested budget reductions to the district prior to the board’s meeting.
During the meeting, Young explained why the district could not make some of those reductions, citing limitations imposed by state educational requirements and the district’s “ends outcomes.”
Members of the community and the school board encouraged the superintendent to look for additional reductions to present during the board’s meeting on April 1.
Board Chair Elizabeth Fitzgerald said the March 25 proposal didn’t feel like a “very big cut” off the previous proposal. She added the district and community faced a new financial impact – alluding to the coronavirus.
Board member Martin Lalonde shared his concerns around potential cuts to transportation, citing possible inequity and increased absenteeism. He encouraged Young to look at cutting some full-time equivalent staff, saying he believed it would be necessary in order to pass the budget.
“Many community members are self-employed, and are not making any money right now,” Lalonde said. “Other people are on unemployment insurance for the foreseeable future, and all this is going to be happening when we’re asking people to vote for this budget.”
Board clerk Bridget Burkhardt agreed the administration should take a deeper look before the board’s next meeting. But, she said, they should consider the impact of this year’s learning disruption due to COVID-19.
Srinivasan thanked the board for its efforts but requested continued dialogue with the community. He hoped to see further reductions to the proposal.
“I would urge the board and the administration to think out-of-the-box for the next revision of cuts, and not necessarily focus on headcounts,” Srinivasan said. “I just hope that the community and the board and the administration, set up a forum or an environment for us to actively engage and have a two-way dialogue on this.”