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Despite Concerns School Committee Votes to Approve FY22 Budget Guidelines

After some discussion and debate, the Burlington School Committee voted to approve the FY22 budget guidelines that Ways & Means set forth.

As reported by BNEWS, the guidelines for Burlington FY22 budget calls for a 3.25 percent increase in the operating budget. This includes a 3 percent increase on the Town side and a 3.5 percent increase for the School Department.

The reason for the less-than-normal increase is the financial impact the pandemic is having on the town. As Town Accountant John Danizio explained to the Board of Selectmen last month, local revenues are down. The town’s income from the meals tax is down 35 percent, hospitality tax income is down 65 percent and funds from permits are down 67 percent. There is also uncertainty if state aid will be impacted in FY22.

However, despite the financial situation of the town there were concerns among some School Committee members about whether they could adhere to the proposed guidelines and offer the level of education expected in the district. Chair Christine Monaco was the first to say she didn’t want to take up the vote.

“I prefer not to vote on this at all,” she said. “The reason I don’t want to vote on it is because I don’t think it’s enough money. I hate to promise to stick with a guideline I can’t match.”

Vice-Chair Thomas Murphy said he thought it was important to be unified with the town before going to Town Meeting in May.

“I personally have no problem voting on it and we typically do,” he said. “Obviously this year is procedurally different from the past and we did not get as much of an adjustment in the budget as we would have liked. However, it’s not a usual year and I’ve always found value in going to Town Meeting in a unified manner with the town on budget matters. I think it sends a good message.”

Member Carl Foss asked what the procedure of requesting additional funds in the budget was.

Superintendent Eric Conti said the committee could go back to Ways & Means with a higher budget proposal. Ultimately, however, it is Town Meeting that makes the decision and the committee could petition that body directly, though Murphy warned against that tactic.

“The guideline is what they came up with and if we disregard it we’ll be going to Town Meeting with a negative Ways and Means vote,” he said.

In the end they voted to approve the guidelines and try and work within it as they go through the budget process with the understanding there could be some flexibility. The vote was unanimous but not all members were enthusiastic about it.

“With some reluctance I will vote ‘aye’,” Monaco said.