FY2010 Budget Conversation

I am not sure how best to convey the facts about next year’s budget to large groups of people.  I will try to use the blog for this purpose.  If any part of this posting generates a question, please make sure that you contact us to get it answered.  While readers may disagree with the proposal discussed, the intent of the post is to convey facts. 

The FY2010 Budget is being constructed in two parts.  Part 1 involves meeting a 3% guideline agreed to by the school committee, selectmen, and ways & means in the fall.  The 3% guideline marked a significant decrease in itself when compared to the last three years – 4.9%, 6.25%, and 5.96% respectively.  We achieved the 3% guideline through retirements without replacement (central office) and retirements with lower cost replacements (only the retirees of whom we are presently aware).  We also level funded supplies and materials and reduced the professional development budget.

In addition, the 3% guideline assumes two historical practices.  First, the two additional elementary teachers needed to maintain a district-wide elementary class size of 18 to 1 are not counted toward the 3% guideline.  Second, the increase needed to fund a new 5-year bus contract is outside of the district’s control and therefore, outside of the 3% guideline.  The transportation increase adds about $154,000 to the bottom line or about 0.5% by itself.

The guidance from the school committee was to meet guideline (3%) and maintain programs and services.  We feel we accomplished this task with step 1 of the current budget process.

Step 2 in the budget process has been created as a result of the economic slowdown.  There is a significant reduction in the amount of revenue the town is receiving from state and from local sources.  This structural shortfall is estimated at $1.4 million at present.  In working together, the school committee, selectmen, and ways & means asked staff to develop a balanced approach to solving the structural deficit.  A balanced approach would include reducing expenses, rethinking some capital projects, and possibly using reserve funds to meet the structural shortfall ($1.4 million).

All union leadership was brought into the conversation at this point about six weeks ago.  After much discussion, the reducing expenses component of the balanced solution came down to asking ALL employees (union and management – town and school) to forgo 1% of their negotiated raise for next year (about $520,000 town and school; about $310,000 all school employees).  In other words, most school union members and non-union members would receive a 2% increase instead of a 3% increase.  In regards to our largest group, with about 75% of our teachers on the salary scale and therefore receiving a step increase of between 3% and 4% for their additional year of experience, most Burlington teachers would receive between a 5% and 6% salary increase in FY2010 even with the 1% concession.  Moreover, the 1% concession would essentially eliminate the need for program reductions and staff layoffs.

The solution to the structural deficit, however, is not as simple as finding 1% (or about $310,000) in school district operational savings.  The principle associated with a balanced solution is eliminated without a salary concession on the part of union and non-union school personnel.  The school district’s share of the structural deficit without foregoing 1% of next year’s raise would be anywhere from 50% to 60% of the structural shortfall or somewhere around $700,000.

What is more troubling is that the town is self-insured in regards to unemployment benefits.  This arrangement has been cost effective without layoffs.  With layoffs, however, our being self-insured means that we need to reduce almost two positions to save the salary dollars associated with one position.

After much consideration, the 1% reduction in next year’s raise was the most reasonable, most balanced, and best solution for kids due to the loss of revenue associated with the economic slowdown ($310,000 vs. roughly $700,000 reduction in the operating budget).  As stated, the school committee has officially requested that each union consider reducing their scheduled raise for next year by 1%.  The non-union employees in the district and the custodial union have already agreed to reduce their raises by 1% for next year.  The school committee members believe forgoing 1% of a planned 3% raise will allow the school district to maintain programs and class-sizes while eliminating any possible reduction in force (unless the economy changes significantly).

These are the discussions we will be having over the next month.  Compared to what I am hearing from most other school districts, our balanced approach is enviable.  The school committee, selectmen, and ways & means also think the balanced approach is sustainable for more than one year if the economic down-turn continues into FY2011.

5 thoughts on “FY2010 Budget Conversation

  1. Fran Rosenberg

    As a Burlington parent, and a special education administrator, engaged in similarly difficult discussions within a non-profit human service agency, I am very impressed with the thoughtful process that is taking place here in Burlington. Thank you, Dr. Conti, for sharing information in a clear and timely manner! I am hopeful that the union leadership will agree to this approach, and that we can preserve the outstanding programs and services that we have here in the Burlington schools without lay-offs!

    Reply
  2. Parent and Taxpayer

    The Superintendent has thrown many numbers around in his explanation of the current budget problems facing the town of Burlington and the school department. Some of his numbers are accurate, some are completely wrong, and others he chose not to bring up at all. What is clear is that the Superintendent and other town leaders are taking Burlington in the wrong direction.
    In his post the Superintendent seems to say that without town employees, in particular teachers, giving up part of their salary increase in the coming year those layoffs of teachers will be necessary. This same argument has been thrown at the other unions and employees of the town. As a taxpayer of the town I find it very disappointing that the town leaders would go in this direction. Asking its employees to forgo their hard earned salary increases is harsh in light of the fact that we all are facing financial hardships. In many cases losing even a small amount of income can be devastating. It is particularly frustrating that Burlington would do this when our tax dollars sit in a substantial emergency fund that was created for just these types of situations. The fund is often referred to as a “raining day” fund. My question is this. How much more rain needs to fall before we tap the fund? The country, state and town have not seen this type of economic collapse since the Great Depression. We are in an emergency and this is precisely why the fund exists. Again to ask town employees to give up salary in this economic climate without tapping the reserve fund and looking at alternative sources of income is flat out wrong.
    In singling out the education unions in Burlington, and their salary increase, the Superintendent has grossly overstated teacher income. He claims that between the yearly percentage increase and changes in salary steps a teacher looks at an increase of 5-6%. This number is far too high. The Superintendent does not take into account an increase in healthcare costs which eliminates up to 2% of the salary increase. He also does not take into consideration that many of Burlington’s fine teachers have over 12 years of experience teaching and no longer receive step increases only the yearly percentage increase which is currently 3%. Given that, an average teacher salary increase is more in line with 2-2.5%. It’s disheartening that the leader of Burlington’s education community would falsely throw the very people who make our system one of the best in the state under the proverbial bus.
    Before the workers that make this town the wonderful place to live that it is get money ripped from their pocket, the town needs to look at other measures. These measures should include tapping the reserve fund and looking at implementing targeted fees that most of our neighboring towns have already implemented. Fiscal responsibility for Burlington should be a priority but it should not come at the expense of its employees.

    Reply
  3. thankful parent

    As we all know times are tough and this situation is a trickle down effect right from the top. With the town receiving less money from the state, all municipal employees/services are going to be effected. Unless your head is in the sand, we all see the layoffs, forclosures, and hard times effecting families. I am thankful that Dr. Conti is being upfront and informative with what is happening to our schools with hopefully a solution to keep the high standards of teaching that we are used too.

    Reply
  4. frustrated teacher

    Burlington is a great place to raise a family. The parents and students have a wonderful “deal”. Maybe we should start charging a fee to play sports- hit the parents in the pocketbook instead of the teachers…..

    Reply
  5. Teacher

    I understand that in these “tough” economic times we must look out for ourselves and our families but never have I seen a group of individuals act in such a selfish manner. The news has highlighted both locally and nationally the sacrifices teachers are willing to make in order to ensure their colleagues maintain employment. These “sacrifices” are the examples we strive to teach our students in an every changing world that often puts the I before we. As a teacher, I am willing to sacrifice a small amount of money in order to guarantee that my colleagues continue to work in Burlington. I believe that looking out for my fellow man is more important then a raise.

    Reply

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