BURLINGTON, Vt. – The Burlington School District is proposing a $91.5 million budget for 2021 and is asking for an increase in the property tax rate to help pay for it.
District officials, led by Superintendent Yaw Obeng, went over the details at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, including a nearly 7.4 percent increase in the property tax rate. By comparison, the current budget increased property taxes by 4.86 percent.
The District attributed the higher increase to a wide range of needs and challenges: structural budget issues, rising wage and benefit costs, labor negotiations, special education legislative environment, inflation rate increase, capital investments, and new investments identified but not supported last year.
It was originally estimated that property taxes would rise by a steep 10.5 percent, but measures were taken to soften the hike.
“We’ve worked really hard to try and reduce that tax impact by applying $1 million of surplus,” said Obeng. “We’ve also done some reductions to the district, while maintaining the same level of programming for next year.”
Reductions from the 2021 budget will be covered in part by the $200,000 contingency increase listed in the budget additions. The District notes in its presentation that the increase is designed to “mitigate the risk that the budget reductions adopted will be too optimistic.”
Obeng believes the budget additions will help address issues of safety and equality that have grown over time within the District and at schools across the United States.
“Those emotional issues are things that come into schools and impact our instructional days, so we’re looking for ways to mitigate those so we can focus on the learning,” Obeng said. “Issues around being able to support safety in schools, and also developing strategies for teachers to monitor safety around recesses and down time.”
City councilors, many of them up for re-election, were understanding of the constraints faced by the District but concerned about how their constituents might feel about the property tax increase.
Councilor Sharon Bushor said that with proposed tax increases for public safety on the table as well, she’s worried Burlingtonians will feel increased financial strain.
“They’re just an increase away from making other choices about where they live,” Bushor said. “I see the bind you’re in, I see the fixed costs that are driving your budget.”
The Burlington School Board unanimously approved the budget, meanwhile voters will have their say on March 5.
The District’s budget presentation can be found here.