Board Discusses Budget Defeat and Regroups

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Thursday March 16, 2017

At the first post-election school board meeting, the major topic of discussion was the recent budget defeat. Chair Elizabeth Fitzgerald, who has served on the board for ten years, noted that she could not recall a budget being voted down during her tenure and thus took the message sent by the voters, “very, very seriously.”

At the pre-town meeting March 6, several members of the public brought up their concerns regarding the lack of sustainability of ever-growing budgets and the subsequent tax burden. Ultimately, a majority of voters shared that sentiment. The FY 18 proposed budget came in at $50.5 million. The 7.62 percent increase in spending was offset by revenue, resulting in a 2.1 percent tax increase. With 25 percent of South Burlington’s registered voters making their voices heard on Election Day, 44.71 percent voted for the budget and 55.29 percent voted against; the budget was defeated by 375 votes.

At the March 8 board meeting, Superintendent David Young provided board members with a potential timeline for bringing a revised budget back to the voters. Young will have a proposal for the board at their March 15 meeting (after The Other Paper has gone to press) and the agenda item will then be warned for action. He also noted that the last possible date the district would be allowed to conduct a re-vote would be April 6.

Board members offered guidance as to what items should be reviewed in the budget. Fitzgerald requested updates to the revenue line, deferring projects that don’t impact safety or programming, and potential decreases in reserves.

LaLonde cited the additional central office administrative position, the communications position, and delaying the front office move as pieces that could possibly be removed this year. He also said he believed “a confluence of events” led to the budget defeat including the fact that Governor Phil Scott, in his desire to see level funded school budgets, encouraged voters to vote their budgets down. In addition, LaLonde noted the Rebel identifier debate as influencing some voter’s decisions.

One resident at the March 8 meeting said she had never voted down a school budget in 31 years, but thought the money being proposed to change uniforms to remove the Rebel identifier could be better spent. Another resident and member of the Rick Marcotte Central School PTO expressed concerns that continual “no” votes would begin to affect her children’s education and posited that the people who voted against the budget due to the Rebel name change would continue to do so because “their issue is not yet resolved.”

Young acknowledged that 80 percent of the budget spending is on “people” (salary and benefits) which he can only re-work to a certain extent. He is required to send notifications to the union regarding “reduction in force” by March 15 and has already met with his administration to discuss where cuts can be made without significantly impacting programming.

The board will review Young’s proposed revised budget in advance of their March 15 meeting and potentially approve it that Wednesday evening. If approved, a special vote will be held in April. If that budget is voted down, there is a possibility of reverting to the prior year’s budget.

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent