School Board Talks Equitable Budget Distribution and Construction Plans


Burlington High School. Photo: Nora Jacobsen

Julia Keeton, Staff Writer

At the Burlington School Board meeting on June 1, the Board discussed the equitable distribution of the district’s budget across Burlington schools and gave an overview of the district’s plans for the construction of a new BHS building

The Board began with the budget discussion. 

Equitable distribution calls for the distribution of funds based on need, taking into account certain factors, such as poverty levels. This is different from an equally distributed budget, where all schools receive the same amount of funding per pupil. The district already generally distributes more money to schools that enroll greater numbers of impoverished students, but this correlation is inconsistent. 

“The relationship [between poverty and funding per pupil] isn’t particularly strong [in the district],” BSD Director of Finance Nathan Lavery said. “…We can really improve the work we’re doing here.” 

Graph demonstrating the current relationship between the precent of impoverished students and funding per pupil at each school in the district, represented by the blue dots.

The district now hopes to standardize its distribution of funds by calculating the number of students at each school using a weighted formula. Though the list of variables has not been finalized, the district’s formula will likely give more weight to English language learners, students with disabilities, and students experiencing poverty. Schools that have a greater percentage of their student body falling into one of those categories will receive more funding per pupil. 

Lavery assured the Board that these categories could expand to cover other groups in the future. 

“We’re not going to get [the model] all right the first time through,” Lavery said. “And so my hope is that, periodically, we will have the opportunity to go back and look at the model to figure out where it’s working for Burlington and where it needs to be improved and enhanced.”

In a survey the district sent out to students, family members, staff, and community members, 72% of the more than 450 respondents said they strongly agreed that resources should be allocated in a way that supports the students who need them most, even if it means reducing the resources at their school. 

“In any type of allocation methodology, there’s going to be a trade off,” Lavery said. 

The Board then moved on to discuss plans for the construction of a new BHS building, a project it voted to undertake at their May 5 meeting. 

Superintendent Flanagan broke down the project into four phases. 

Phase 1: BSD will work with the company White and Burke Real Estate Advisors to conduct a “high level site search and evaluation.” The district hopes to identify five to ten possible sites by August. 

Phase 2:  BSD will narrow the list of potential sites down to two or three and begin the conceptual design process. The district does not have a timeline for this phase yet, as it depends on the findings in phase 1. 

Phase 3: BSD will acquire the site and proceed with the design and permitting processes. 

Phase 4: BSD will put the project up for bid, build, and move in!   

Flanagan said several sites on the Institute Road property may be considered for construction, such as the fields. Though potentially possible, rebuilding at the exact same location could complicate the timeline. 

“The work we would need to do to demolish that [building], I think, will push our timing out too far to be able to build and get back into a building in a reasonable amount of time,” he said. 

Waiting another year or two for [the school] to be built [is worth it].

— Commissioner Monika Ivancic (Ward 7)

Commissioner Monika Ivancic (Ward 7) disagreed. 

“I’m a big proponent of rebuilding on Institute Road. Ideally where the high school currently stands,” Ivancic said. “…In my opinion, waiting another year or two for [the school] to be built [is worth it]. We’re talking about a long term high school.” 

To fund the project, the district is hoping for aid from the State and Federal governments. Regardless, the district will need a new bond to be approved by taxpayers. A special vote for the bond may be held in November 2021 or March 2022. The anticipated price tag is not yet known.  

The initial bond for the BHS ReEnvisioning project was for $70 million and was approved by voters in November 2018. That project was recently canceled in favor of the new construction plan. Flanagan reported that the district anticipates it will have spent $4 million of that sum by the time the project officially concludes. BSD has also already borrowed $20 million of the $70 million, which it plans to return, leaving $46 million of bonding authority that could potentially go towards the new construction project. However, it is uncertain if the district will do this.

“I believe we will likely need to start over with a whole new ask and return the whole 70 million,” Flanagan said. 

While this project occurs, BHS students will continue to attend school at 67 Cherry Street, which the district has leased for three and a half years. However, the construction project is likely to take at least four years if everything goes exactly as planned. 

“Four years is extremely aggressive,” Flanagan said. “And most people are telling me four years may not be possible…that’s why it’s so important that we got started when we did.”

The School Board will discuss equitable budgeting in more detail and select its criteria for possible building locations at the next meeting on Tuesday, June 15.