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Teachers Brace As Burlington School Board Charts Course For Budget Cuts

Burlington School officials are presenting the city’s school board with a wide range of cost-cutting measures this week in an effort to rework the failed school budget.

The proposed budget failed on Town Meeting Day and administrators have developed a list of 48 teachers who could be cut.

The new reductions, if executed by the school board, could also reduce Burlington’s full-day kindergarten to half-day.

Bob Abbey is a third grade teacher at Flynn Elementary School and the president of the Burlington teachers’ union. For him and fellow teachers, the list of 48 teaching positions that might be cut is a serious concern.

"It is real, and it’s caused great anxiety for all the teachers," he said. "And it’s a very difficult time. Our district is in turmoil right now to be honest with you."

"It is real, and it's caused great anxiety for all the teachers. And it's a very difficult time. Our district is in turmoil right now to be honest with you." - Bob Abbey, third grade teacher and president, Burlington teacher's union

But Burlington superintendent Jeanne Collins says it’s important to remember that the list is not final, and the school board may decide to shrink it dramatically before it’s finalized later this week.

Collins says the list of potential cuts is as drastic as it is so that the board can discuss the full range of options. She says union rules require that notice of the possible reductions be made far in advance.

"In order for those positions to even be part of the discussion, we need to follow the RIF process, which is notification to the BEA, and ultimately – unless taken off the table – a [Reduction in Force] list by March 28," she said.

At a meeting Tuesday, the school board must begin the process that started when voters turned down the budget on Town Meeting Day.

Board chairman Alan Matson says teacher cuts aren’t the only thing to consider; the district is made up of a wide range of programs and services, he said, all of them with a price tag.

"That has included certain class sizes, that has included broad ranges of class offerings, that has included co-curriculars," he said. "That has included programs such as magnet schools. All of these things have been asked for by the community, and I think some of what comes out of a no-vote in a budget is ‘wow, maybe we can’t keep all of these programs.’"

As much as possible, Matson says, he hopes the board will insulate students from as much of the cuts as possible.

"All of the cuts will not and should not come out of the classroom," he said.

Back at Flynn Elementary, Bob Abbey walks into the gym, where the school’s well-attended after school program is gearing up for a game of dodgeball.

He says about half the school’s students are part of the after school program and worries that even a reduction there would be a hardship for the families that depend on it.

Wherever the cuts are made, teachers and administrators agree, it won’t be easy.

Taylor was VPR's digital reporter from 2013 until 2017. After growing up in Vermont, he graduated with at BA in Journalism from Northeastern University in 2013.
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