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Burlington-Edison School Board approves budget, bond proposal

August 29, 2018

BURLINGTON — The Burlington-Edison School Board on Monday night approved the school district’s 2018-2019 budget as well a $98.3 million bond proposal that it will send to voters in February.

For its budget, the district is expecting revenues of about $55.7 million and expenditures of about $55.2 million. Taking into account its $3.3 million in reserves, the district is expecting to end the year with about $3.8 million in reserves.

The budget does not include a new contract between the district and its teachers union, as the budget was prepared while the two sides negotiated, Finance Director Joe Stewart said.

The district was required by the state to submit its annual budget by the end of August. Monday’s meeting was the board’s last regularly scheduled meeting of the month.

The Burlington-Edison district, like most of its neighboring public school districts, expects to have budget difficulties in the next several years.

As part of the so-called “McCleary Fix,” which is the state Legislature’s response to a state Supreme Court ruling that it was not adequately funding basic education, school districts throughout the state received this year an influx in state revenue, much of which was designated for salary increases.

In exchange for the additional state money, the Legislature put a cap on how much money school districts can collect from local taxpayers.

Newly required four-year budget projections show that many districts, including Burlington-Edison, will use up their reserves and be running into deficits within the next few years.

“There seem to be some discrepancies as you roll those numbers forward,” Stewart said.

Along with the budget, the board approved sending a $98.3 million 20-year bond issuance proposal to voters in the February special election.

The majority of that money would be used to build a middle school for seventh- and eighth-graders, thereby ending the district’s long tradition of K-8 schools.

“We’ve been working on this for several years,” board President Rich Wesen said. “I think it’s the best way to go for our students.”

If approved, the bond would add $1.85 per $1,000 in assessed property value in property taxes being paid to the district starting in 2020. It would bring the total being paid to the district to $4.08 per $1,000 in assessed property value.

Thanks to changes in state funding and the expiration of a $2.4 million voter-approved supplemental levy, the total of $4.08 per $1,000 in assessed property value would be less than the $4.92 property owners are now paying to the district.

The school district’s last construction bond — approved by voters in 2001 to build Lucille Umbarger Elementary School — was paid off in 2016.

The expiration of that bond, Wesen said, was part of the reason the time had come to move forward with the middle school project.

“I think we’ve looked at it long enough,” he said. “The longer we wait, the more it’s going to cost.”

The board approved the proposal 3-1.

Board member Bill Wallace was absent from Monday’s meeting, though he had previously shown support for the proposal.

Board member David Lowell voted against it.

If the bond is approved, the new middle school would be built where the district’s alternative high school, Burlington-Edison North, sits just north of Burlington-Edison High School.

Burlington-Edison North students would be relocated, possibly to the district office on East Fairhaven Avenue, Superintendent Laurel Browning has said.

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