While educators called for raises and community members urged program preservation, Burlingame school officials examined structural budget limitations they claim will limit their capacity to accommodate the requests.
The Burlingame Elementary School District Board of Trustees dug into a financial plan that calls for spending to outpace income in the coming fiscal year, with a widening budget gap expected over the following years.
The discussion Tuesday, June 8, also featured scrutiny from frustrated teachers who questioned the district’s proposed budget and claimed that space should be carved out of the financial plan to pay educators more.
Brian McManus, president of the Burlingame Education Association, called into question the budget projection that anticipates an $823,778 budget shortfall in the 2021-22 fiscal year that should grow to $2.3 million the following year.
“This manipulation of the budget by projecting deficit spending is a complete distortion so that the board does not have to address the inadequate salaries offered to Burlingame school district teachers,” he said.
The comments came days after McManus and his colleagues rallied in downtown Burlingame to raise support for higher salaries. The union’s bargaining team has reached an impasse with administrators during contract talks, and a third party is intervening to facilitate future negotiations.
For his part, McManus doubted assertions from Superintendent Christopher Mount-Benites that the district’s financial footing would slip in coming years, nodding to state budget projections showing California’s school system is flush with tax revenue.
Mount-Benites contended otherwise though, saying that the district is heavily reliant on pandemic relief money to help keep its budget gap slim and that the financial woes will worsen once emergency support stops.
He offered the perspective in the wake of a previous board decision to cut $1.3 million from the budget, comprised mostly of eliminating vacant positions to keep the budget reductions away from the classroom in March.
Among those positions was an Italian language teaching position at Burlingame Intermediate School, which riled school community members who opposed the plan to dissolve the program.
“This is just incredibly disappointing. So please, please fix this,” David Burruto, a parent of a student currently enrolled in the program, said. His perspective aligned with several other community members who expressed their displeasure with plans to cut the language program.
Yet despite the pleas for reintroducing programs, Mount-Benites painted a bleak picture of the district’s economic future. What’s more, he said the district will face a future reduction in state funding.
Due to the pandemic, lawmakers froze enrollment last year and did not cut funding for districts that lost students. But eventually those enrollment figures will be unfrozen, Mount-Benites said, and the district will face the financial consequence of dipping from 3,500 students to 3,370 over the past year.
To balance the budget, the proposal from Mount-Benites calls for exhausting an uncommitted reserve fund worth $2.7 million over the coming two fiscal years. The district is keeping another $1.3 million in statutory reserves over that same period.
Teachers have pointed to the reserve funds and other fund balances as a potential source for financing the raises they seek.
Alternatively, Trustee Lisa Mudd called on support from teachers should the district potentially pursue floating a parcel tax, which could generate money to raise their salaries.
And Trustee Deepak Sarpangal questioned whether the district could creatively finance a plan for offering teacher raises, such as developing a revenue sharing model that would guarantee teachers a portion of any future additional available income.
No decision was made at the meeting, and the budget is slated to return for adoption next week.
Note to readers: This story has been changed. Brian McManus is president of the Burlingame Education Association, the teachers' union, not the Burlingame Education Foundation.