The Burlington school districtwill ask voters on Town Meeting Day to authorize a 10-year, $19 million bond to implement long-needed — and long-delayed — upgrades at educational buildings. The funds would pay for additional preschool space, fire safety, and increased handicap accessibility at the city’s elementary and high schools, school administrators told the Burlington city council on Monday.
Superintendent Yaw Obeng, Director of Finance Nathan Lavery and Director of Property Services Marty Spaulding presented the details and highlighted the urgent need for the repairs. Delaying the maintenance any longer would allow the current deficiencies to snowball and could result in unplanned emergency repairs or safety issues, they said. Lavery estimated that the new bond would cost a family with a home worth $231,500 an additional $8 a month.
All told, the renovation plan would cost $39 million. The district would fund the remaining $20 million by bonding for $2 million annually over the same 10-year span. Voters in 2009 approved a change that allows the district to bond that amount each year — without putting it on the ballot.
Obeng and Lavery on Monday also presented a preliminary budget for the 2017-18 school year that estimates a $3.5 million, 5 percent increase. New spending would be directed at special education needs, preschool expansion, hiring social workers, and academic intervention for struggling students, as well as other projects, the administrators said.
The school board has yet to begin negotiating teacher and other employee contracts. After the district barely averted a strike in October by agreeing to a one-year contract with the teachers’ union, that could make for tough negotiations and a further budget increase. “It’s a balancing act,” Obeng said, between “what we add to salaries and how much we put into programs.”
Councilor Dave Hartnett praised the district’s efforts to address issues of handicap access. Because of those renovations, “I’d vote ‘yes’ if it was tonight,” he said. “I think it’s so needed.”
Others were wary of a steep increase in taxes, especially after voters in November approved millions in bonding for capital improvement projects. Councilor Sara Giannoni urged the city to better coordinate in the future with the school district before asking Burlingtonians for additional cash.
Councilor Sharon Bushor agreed. “I’m going to support this, but I’m concerned [whether taxpayers will support it].” Voters see the necessity of the repairs, Bushor added, but “it’s whether they’re able to [pay].”