Burlington School Board to discuss $60M high school bonding gap

BURLINTON, Vt. (WCAX) – A decision could come Wednesday night on how the Burlington School Board plans to pay for a new high school after recent revelations they are $60 million short of the borrowing cap imposed by City Hall.

The school district has been scrambling for the past few weeks to close the $60-million gap on the proposed $210 million project to demolish the old PCB-contaminated BHS and build another one next door.

The mayor and school officials have declined multiple interview requests to explain why the bonding capacity limit was set at $150 million and why the bonding capacity did not seem to be a concern last September. At that time, the mayor was pushing a $40 million general obligation bond and several councilors raised concerns about whether the city could afford that bond and a new school. Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger assured councilors that the city’s creditors were on board.

“Which reaffirmed the city’s double-A credit rating with the expectation that we would be making significant additional general obligation bonding, TIF borrowing, and school investment. And nonetheless, they essentially gave an endorsement in the direction we are headed,” Weinberger said last year.

City Councilor Ali Dieng, I-Ward 7 says he doesn’t know what’s changed since then but believes the city needs to support the financing of the school, even if it damages the city’s credit rating.

“The people deserve this high school and we need to build it. I think that’s my message, we should not be fighting this and also elected leaders against each other about this. This is an investment that this community needs and deserves and we need to invest it, turn the page and then figure it out,” Dieng said.

He says in the meantime if the district finds savings or other funding sources, they can reduce the bond amount.

Whatever the cost, there’s no doubt that this will be the largest bond in Burlington history, leaving taxpayers on the hook. Burlington resident David Kirk says he is frustrated with a lack of transparency of the board and will not be voting for the project when it goes on the ballot in November. “The reason is because the tech center should not be carried by the city of Burlington taxpayers. That’s approximately $50 million of their project, as the school board has said, so I don’t see why the city of Burlington needs to build that building,” Kirk said.

Kirk and other critics have said that since the tech center will be used by students from across Chittenden County, it should not fall on Burlington taxpayers alone.

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