Support Our Schools: Vote Yes on March 7

On Tuesday, March 7th voters will be asked to support a school budget increase (the first in two years) as well as a long overdue infrastructure bond to improve and update some of our aging buildings.

The Burlington Friends of Education are asking Burlington voters to Vote YES on the proposed budget and YES to the infrastructure bond. Both are needed to keep our commitment to educate our city’s schoolchildren.

Similar to the city’s recently approved bond (in November) to fix ailing and aging infrastructure, it makes sense for the district to bond separately for substantive upgrades and improvements. In fact, it’s pretty routine for capital budgets to be voted on separately from operating budgets in Vermont towns and cities.

The proposed $85.5 million FY ’18 general fund budget includes $100,000 in debt service repayment for the $19 million bond. In developing the budget, the district included the debt service payment for FY ’18 so the funds would be available for that expense if the bond was approved. Therefore, the approval of the bond will not add any additional expense to the FY ’18 budget.

So, now you want to know: How will this affect your wallet? Simple.

Burlington homeowners with household incomes of $141,000 per year (or less) have their property taxes capped based on income. These are called “income sensitive” taxpayers, and include many city homeowners. According to the school district’s budget proposal, the average income sensitive taxpayer’s property tax bill will decrease by an average of 2.4% this coming year as a result of the proposed school budget.

If you are not an income sensitive taxpayer, it is estimated that your education property tax will increase by 5.25% (or $210 on a hypothetical house worth $231,000). These investments we make today, will pay off later on for not only Burlington, but society at large. We all know that.

The past several years have been challenging on many fronts when it comes to education funding – both in Vermont and in our own city.

Despite those challenges, we have some dedicated teachers, staff, administrators, parents, community members, and students, who give us plenty to celebrate, including:

  • High graduation and college placement rates;
  • Innovative approaches to use of technology in the classrooms;
  • Partnership for Change;
  • Nationally recognized magnet school successes in achievement and equity;
  • Low administrative overhead when compared countywide; and,
  • Meeting the new world challenges of equity, diversity, and accessibility.

It’s also clear that our district continues to be a strong value for our public investment, including:

  • Lower per-pupil spending than similar-size districts;
  • Average teacher salaries when compared countywide;
  • Larger classroom sizes than surrounding schools, and above the statewide average.

So, on March 7: Vote YES for vibrant, healthy, flourishing schools for our children.

Links to Resources About the FY ’18 School Budget and Bond Article:

Join the “Vote YES Unity March” on Monday

SchoolFlyerBurlington school students and families will unite to demonstrate their support for the school budget at a downtown rally Monday, June 2.

Students and families from all Burlington schools will meet at City Hall on Church Street at 3:30 p.m. where they will join in singing “We are One Nation.”  Afterward the plan is to march to the top of Church St and back to City Hall.

“It is our hope to unite all Burlington students in song and represent our future,” states Clare Wool, a parent of three children in the Burlington schools.

On Tuesday, June 3, residents of Burlington will vote on a revised school budget. Designed by a new school board, this budget reduces the spending of FY14.  The impact on property taxes between a yes vote and a no vote is $67/$200,000 property value, less than $6/month, but the difference to Burlington schools will be an additional $1.2 million in cuts.  This next step of cuts will include all middle school, freshman, and junior varsity sports, as well as deeper cuts to classroom supports, transportation subsidies, and more.

“One of my biggest concerns is retaining engaged and active families in Burlington.  If the schools cannot thrive, families will move out, property values will drop, and the city will undergo a steep and rapid decline,” says Marni Slavik, a parent of two children.

To learn more, contact Marni Slavik at (802) 862-9964 or (802) 999-6012.

Yes … The Cuts Really Are That Bad

photoLet’s be clear. Let’s be honest. The cuts on the table if the budget fails on June 3 will heap really bad cuts on top of already horrible ones.

In isolation, it’s easy to look at these cuts and say … what’s the big deal? So what if teachers don’t get any training, or supplies for a year (or more). So what if a few kids don’t get to play sports.

But if you look closely, you’ll see necessary supports being pulled out from under some of our most vulnerable and at-risk families and youth in terms of transportation, after school activities, and learning and language help. Remember, the next round of $1.2 million in cuts is ON TOP of $1.5 million (really $2.5 million in cuts and $1 million in new expenses) that will directly impact classroom experiences for our kids.

The net $1.5 million in cuts included cutting classroom supports (20 paraeducators) already. That means kids who need extra help in the classroom will be plain out of luck. Yeah, how lucky for them to see hope and opportunity squandered because we, as adults, aren’t willing to sacrifice a few extra bucks a month. News flash: Voting no still raises your taxes, and our kids suffer as a result.

So this means that many out-of-classroom opportunities (as well as transportation to get kids to school) will not be available to families who can’t afford to pay through the nose for a private coach, or cab rides, or a car, or to join a private sports league, or pay the costs of what it takes to field a team, or pay for a tutor, or any other supports for their kids other than through an already stressed and underfunded education system in Burlington.

But, hey, we’re sending a message to those adults, right? Wrong.

The bottom line is that cutting staff development and resources will directly impact how our kids are taught and how they learn. It will weaken the ability of a teacher to respond to needs of the classroom, such as individual learning needs, interest of the kids, or special projects in the community without having to dig into her/his own pocket to make it happen or raise money from parents or … ugh … bake sales.

What does this mean? It means that kids whose families can afford extra help outside of the classroom will get it. Those who can’t afford it, won’t. And the disparities we’ve worked so hard at to close in recent years will rapidly reappear and quickly worsen. Why? Because once we start digging this hole, it will be harder to dig our way out.

So it’s nice that the negatives think they’ll be able to keep a few extra bucks in their pocket, but they’re doing so by picking the pockets of teachers and families — many of whom can’t afford these out-of-pocket costs and for whom public education is here to serve.

This is one of the many, many reasons that I’m voting YES on June 3. Every kid deserves a great education. No exceptions.

— Shay Totten, Ward 7, parent of three kids in the Burlington school system

Download Your Own “Vote Yes on June 3” Leaflet

You may have seen the awesome two-color flyer that’s been making its way to homes around the city. Well, guess what? If you’d like a copy to print off and distribute to neighbors, friends, or coworkers – we have a copy that you can click on and print. Just click on the link and that will take you to a new window where you can see the two-page flyer in PDF form. Or, click on the image below and print as a JPG.

And, remember, Vote YES on June 3.




Jerry Greenfield: Why Burlington should Vote YES on June 3

12039_Greenfield-JerryOn June 3, I’m asking Burlington voters to Vote Yes and support public education in the Queen City.

Why should the founder of an ice cream company who lives in Williston care about public schools in Burlington?


I am a strong supporter and advocate of public education — not just because my son attended public schools, but because strong public schools are the foundation of healthy communities. They help to nurture and shape the future leaders and business owners and artists, and they keep our youth connected to each other, to families, and to their community.

As many know, Burlington holds a special place for me as it’s where Ben & Jerry’s was founded in 1978 in a former gas station. We owe this community a great deal, and supporting its schools is one of the best ways I can suggest how to keep this great community thriving for years to come. In fact, every great community deserves great public schools.

Burlington has much to be proud of – its sustainability-themed elementary magnet school (the only one of its kind in the country) was just asked to join Ashoka’s Changemaker Schools Network. This national network of about 40 elementary schools is doing cutting-edge work with students to teach leadership, empathy, and engagement with the world around them.

But this is just one story. Each public school has its own success story to tell, and that’s what makes them so important to our kids, our families, our neighbors, our businesses, and the people who have just moved here. Without knowing anyone, they can know there is a public school there to support them and their family.

So on June 3 I urge you to head to the polls and vote Yes to support Burlington’s public schools. There is much to celebrate in our communities and in the world, and public education is one of them, a foundation upon which a healthier community, and planet, is built.

Free Press: Down payment on better school management

In case you missed it, The Burlington Free Press on Sunday had a fantastic editorial in support of the school budget and urged city residents to “Vote YES” on June 3. Below is the editorial.

Burlington voters should swallow the bitter bill and approve the revised city school budget on June 3. The consequences of failure would only exacerbate the district’s problems and could end up cost taxpayers more in the long run.

Every dollar counts, and the district’s recent track record — a string of deficits, misleading budgets and lax record keeping — certainly leaves the schools with little claim on taxpayers’ purses. Administrators and school board members have nobody but themselves to blame for the district’s difficulties.

By approving the budget, voters are making a down payment on responsible oversight of the money taxpayers entrust to the district to educate the city’s children.

Passing the budget also would put the schools in a better position to both address the serious financial and management challenges facing the district as well as serve the best interest of the students.

The call to pass the budget is based on more than the overused argument of “for the children.”

The budget going before voters on June 3 has a serious image problem. The revised spending plan asks for more money than the budget defeated on Town Meeting Day.

Yet the March plan is bigger only on paper, the victim of a budget process that relied on the budget that was approved the previous year rather than what the schools actually spent.

With the budget before voters, Burlington schools propose to spend less money in the fiscal year starting July 1 than in the previous 12 months.

An actual dollar-for-dollar reduction in spending represents an extraordinary act for any government agency, let alone a school district that can claim a growing student body.

Burlington residents, as taxpayers, are better off giving the schools a budget that gives the School Board and district administrators a better chance at addressing critical problems.

The tax increase that comes with passage is only marginally more than what homeowners face under the so-called default budget, the spending plan the schools will adopt should voters say no — $101 for a home assessed at $300,000, less than $10 a month.

The difference is hardly negligible, but is a bearable price for keeping the schools from sinking further into crisis mode.

The School Board with new members and leadership installed since Town Meeting Day has shown a willingness to tackle the tough problems and deserves a chance to bring the district back on track. Board member must vow to never again allow such gross mismanagement to fester within the district.

In return, city residents have a right to demand the utmost transparency from the school district with regular reports about money spent and potential financial red flags pushed out to the public.

Burlington schools are on probation, and have until next Town Meeting Day to show city residents — parents, voters and taxpayers — the district truly has changed its ways.

— Aki Soga, The Burlington Free Press

Why vote yes? A detailed post from Amanda Levinson

6S7A4148Like most of you reading this post, I went to public schools.  I grew up in Denver, which prided itself on having ethnically and socioeconomically diverse schools. Although the performance of the schools was mixed, my parents never assumed I would go anywhere else.

My mom was a public school teacher, and every member of my family, from the descendents of Oregon pioneers to the children of refugees who fled the pogroms in Eastern Europe, went to public schools during a time when they were a ticket to a guaranteed middle-class lifestyle for most Americans.

Our public education system was founded on the core American belief in equality of opportunity, and for years, that system worked.  But as many have observed, these days, there are two public school systems in America: a system based in affluent suburbs and districts, which generally works, and a system based in poor urban or rural areas, that is generally failing our kids.

So stark is this divide that some have observed a trend toward re-segregation. Indeed, this happened to my high school in Denver, Manual High School, which went from being one of the top performing high schools in the state to the lowest performing school—and finally closing entirely–over the course of three years.

My husband and I observed similar trends and inequities in California, which we left three years ago.  One elementary school had lavish fundraisers with $6,000 auction items and violins for every child, while two miles down the road, another elementary school struggled to fund even basic programs for their students.

So what struck us about Burlington when we first moved here was that the schools were an exception: here was a small district with similar demographics as other socioeconomically and ethnically diverse urban areas, but that seemed to be working because of the extraordinary investments (financial and otherwise) that the community was pouring into it.

And so, those of us who can’t afford—or choose not to—send our children to private schools are in a bind. On the one hand, we are frustrated—by the rising property taxes, by the deficits uncovered by the school board, by a budget that costs more and cuts important programs.

And on the other hand, we are worried, because we know that if voters vote “No” on June 3, we will see the fabric that stitches together our schools—and our communities—start to unravel.

The new budget represents the outer limit of what we can responsibly cut as a community.  It contains a net total of $1.5 million dollars in cuts that will touch every school in the district. These cuts include:

-16 kindergarten para-educator positions

-4 librarians

-3 Spanish teachers at the elementary- and middle-school level

-3.6 Burlington high school teachers

-subsidies for students’ bus fare

-professional development programs that help teachers adopt best practices and stay current in their teaching

-police officers in the schools

But here’s the thing. If we do not pass the budget on June 3, the Board will be forced to the default budget, which will need to include an ADDITIONAL $1.2 million in cuts, including:

-$125,000 from athletics

-$250,000 from professional development

-$100,000 in supplies, which could include anything from toilet paper to art supplies to basic classroom materials

-English Language Learner teacher to ensure the success of our growing population of New Americans

If our public schools were failing our kids, I would be skeptical about supporting this budget. But what we are doing in our schools is working.

We have nationally-recognized, award winning teachers like Matthew Hadjun at Champlain Elementary, who won the Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award.

We have the Sustainability Academy, which won a prestigious Ashoka Foundation award for its social and enivironmentally-focused curriculum.

We are the model for countless farm-to-school programs that are cropping up around the country.

We are catalyzing a student-centered and community-engaged approach to learning through the innovative Partnership for Change program.

We have above-average high school graduation rates.

And we’re doing all this with larger classroom sizes, per-pupil spending that is BELOW statewide and county averages, and with teachers’ salaries that are the third lowest in the county.

Put simply, Burlington Schools are accomplishing more with LESS. So the fundamental question before us on June 3, is not “How can we afford this budget?” But “How can we afford not to support this budget?”

I believe that there is still work to be done to bring spending in line while also making our schools the best they can be. I also see, in the big picture, a rare city with healthy schools and engaged families, and all of that now at risk. I’ll be voting Yes on June 3, to protect our shared future. I hope you’ll join me.

–  Amanda Levinson, Burlington Vermont

Quick Look: What Has Been Cut and What Will be Cut

Since there has been so much information going around about what is, or isn’t, being cut in the budget and what might be cut if voters say no on June 3, we’re breaking down the list for you right here.

The proposed budget has plenty of pain to go around, and many of us worry that the foundation upon which our vibrant schools are built will be seriously damaged by a no vote. Voting YES on June 3 means we still have work to do and we don’t get everything we want. Voting no will put Burlington closer to the bottom of the heap in Chittenden County in terms of community support of our schools. Is that who we are, or who we want to be?

To recap: The new budget includes a net total of $1.5 million in cuts – that’s $2.5 million in cuts, and then roughly $1 million in new expenses, including roughly $400,000 in federal cuts to mandated services – thanks to the federal budget sequestration – that are now being paid for by local taxpayers.

These are real cuts, not some “savings” and will impact every school in the district and touch nearly every classroom. They include:

  • $261,000 in unspecified non-classroom expenses
  • 20 para-educator positions ($500,000);
  • 3 Spanish teachers elementary- and middle-school level ($240,000);
  • Several Burlington high school teachers ($300,000);
  • $120,000 in subsidies for students’ bus fare;
  • $150,000 in professional development programs;
  • $100,000 in professional services;
  • $220,000 by making a 1.5 percent cut across seven different areas of the budget; and,
  • Elimination of police officers in the schools.

If the budget is defeated on June 3, the School Board’s Finance Committee has identified another $1.3 million in cuts that will have to be made in order to meet the parameters of the so-called “default budget.” A budget, mind you, that will still increase taxes on every Burlington homeowner. Along with those higher taxes will come an even greater cut to our schools. The cuts include:

  • $525,000 in cuts to professional development, professional services, property services, and supplies. This means that essentially ALL professional development has been cut in the district except for what is needed for common core.
  • $125,000 in cuts to athletics at the middle schools and high school & cuts to co-curriculars at middle and high schools.
  • No bus subsidy except for Free and Reduced lunch families (in the FY15 proposed budget there is a partial subsidy for families not qualifying for Free and reduced lunch). This is a $30,000 savings.
  • $125,000 cut to ELL services, including an ELL teacher, liaison, and supplies for ELL program.
  • A cut of $150,000 to be divided among schools and determined at the school level (a “discretionary school level cut”).
  • $70,000 cut to renovations expenses at Flynn Elementary / St. Joseph’s Academy
  • $20,000 staffing cut at the high school
  • $75,000 cut to technology

The Board’s time would be better served continuing to clean up the mess of the past, and ushering in new leadership rather than having to manage more chaos as a result of even deeper cuts. Not to mention the potential long-term harm that will come from undermining public education in Burlington by forcing kids into more crowded classrooms with fewer people to support them in their learning.

Vote YES on June 3.

Mayor: Burlington Well-Served by New Budget

BoBdAGrIcAExDeSThe following is the statement made by Mayor Miro Weinberger in support of the Burlington School Budget. It was delivered at a news conference at C.P. Smith Elementary School on Monday, May 19th

Welcome to C.P. Smith Elementary School and thank you, Principal Tom Fleury, for hosting today’s school budget announcement at your school.  And thanks to all of you for joining me here today.

I will be voting for the June 3rd school budget being proposed by the School Board and believe Burlington will be well-served by that budget for two key reasons:

First, I believe the School Board elected in March has demonstrated through repeated steps that it is serious about cleaning up the schools’ finances.  These steps have included: commissioning an audit focused on diagnosing the cause of the repeated deficits; making substantial and painful cuts amounting to millions of dollars in response to the results of the audit; and, most significantly, signaling that the future of the District will be different under new leadership.  My support of the budget is, in part, a reflection of my belief that it is important to support this Board’s ongoing effort to put our school system on more stable footing.

Second, our community is fortunate to have the excellent public school system that we enjoy, and I am concerned that too many cuts too quickly and without a deliberate strategy will do considerable lasting damage to that system, particularly in the programs and services that directly impact our children.  As it is, many dedicated teachers and staff, who face significant uncertainty about their personal futures, are working tirelessly with our students to wrap up the school year and plan for the next.  As the School Board continues to identify and correct past mistakes, we cannot allow our legitimate frustration to compound the problems that our schools face.

I want to be clear that I am well aware that the Board has much more work ahead to put the School District on sound financial footing and control the unsustainable tax increases of recent years.  The Board has yet to figure out how the School District’s finances will be managed during the upcoming transition – either by taking the City up on our offer of financial management assistance or through some other interim measure.  Further, the School District likely will face a revenue challenge in future years as it works with the State to resolve how payments in lieu of taxes, or “PILOT” payments, will be handled in future years.  The School District faces major challenges continuing to modernize its facilities and meet the emerging educational needs of the community, while at the same time containing the costs this modernization requires.  My Administration will continue to support and challenge the District to do more in these areas in the months ahead through the School Board and City Council-approved cost-control measures that I first proposed last January and through other efforts.  It will be very important that the District make significant progress in all these areas before next Town Meeting Day.

Finally, it is clear to me that some of the concerns about rising property taxes that Burlingtonians are facing will be addressed only by changes to statewide education financing policy.  While Burlington is doing its hard work over the next year to find efficiencies wherever possible, it is critical that similar progress be made at the statewide level.

However, these challenges are for another day.  After a polarizing vote on Town Meeting Day and months of troubling news about the School District, it is time for Burlingtonians to come together and support the Board’s efforts to address squarely the financial problems the School District faces and to show that we value Burlington’s excellent public schools, recognize their importance to our local economy, and want to see them continue to thrive.

The June 3rd vote is an opportunity to voice confidence in and support for a largely new Board that already has demonstrated it is willing to make the difficult decisions necessary to fix the School District’s financial problems and to give that Board every opportunity to succeed at this critical challenge.  The June 3rd vote is a chance to demonstrate that Burlington will remain a place of great opportunity for all of our children.