This letter is by David Kirk, of Burlington.
Please consider some things before we vote to increase the school budget by 13.3% per equalized student.
Take a look at surrounding towns and their budgets. The Essex Westford School District (EWSD) is similar to ours in size/makeup. We both have tech centers and their student population is within 200-300 of ours, yet their budget is $10,000,000 lower than the proposed school budget for Burlington.
In FY 21, Burlington spent $16,900 per equalized student. And the proposed budget would raise that to $19,310.56! Meanwhile, EWSD’s cost per equalized student is $2,500 less. This alone should give a moment of pause.
The superintendent of Burlington School District stated in an e-mail that BSD has been running a surplus for the past two years. That’s great, but then why do we need an increase? We currently have in excess of $43,000,000 in outstanding bonds (this according to the most recent district audit). A new high school is on the horizon, as well as inspections on all other schools in our city. Will Burlington taxpayers be on the hook for major renovations or replacement buildings for our elementary and middle schools soon, too?
According to the State of Vermont, BSD has had a declining population of 399 students in the last five years with over half of that in the last year. So why do we keep needing an increase? I believe the school board is selling this as the state has a surplus and we may get some relief from the state in the form of money. Truth is no one knows how much, and if the PCBs are as widespread as many people believe the state may need that money to help with remediation and/or building replacements throughout Vermont.
I also heard during a BHS/BTV zoom meeting that BHS is condemned, but we still are using the gym and auditorium? Why are we not looking at remediation? Why not all costs? After all, BHS is only 57 years old. Is Champlain school next? It was built only a few years after and has yet to be tested. Vermont has the lowest level allowed in the country, so how do our PCB levels compare to the rest of the country?
Short term money should never be spent just because we can. Why are we not advocating for paying down our debt? In a time when inflation seems out of control, gas prices are up over 50% and the cost of groceries appears to be rising weekly, we should be leveraging this surplus to provide tax relief to residents.
We believe the school board and superintendent need to reevaluate and figure out where the budget can be trimmed. Take a look at how we can find savings and not increase spending once the taxpayers start spending at the level of $19,310 per pupil, does anyone honestly believe that amount will ever be reduced in years when there isn’t any state money to support it?
For these reasons, we recommend Burlingtonians vote no on Question #1 this Town Meeting Day.