Burr and Burton responds to criticism of its federal filings
By Patrick McArdle
STAFF WRITER | March 07,2013
MANCHESTER — Burr and Burton Academy was criticized Monday night for not releasing its financial information and for its policies in regard to special education students by a parent of two students at the school, prompting a letter in response Tuesday from the school’s board of directors to residents of Manchester.
During the Manchester school district floor meeting, Christina Rainville, of Manchester, suggested that voters add conditions to Burr and Burton’s tuition request before approving it that would require more complete financial reporting and give students the right to appeal decisions made about special education services. Rainville’s motion was defeated 62-6 and the tuition request of $14,875 per student was approved.
Rainville is the chief deputy state’s attorney for Bennington County but told the assembled voters that she was speaking at the meeting as a Manchester resident and Burr and Burton parent and not in her capacity as a prosecutor.
After distributing copies of a federal form that nonprofits are required to file with the federal government giving information about their mission and finances, Rainville said she was “very concerned that Burr and Burton might not be spending all of its special education funding” on special education costs. Rainville said when she looked into the matter, she looked at the forms, called 990s, and said she was “horrified” by what she found.
The 990 forms for 2008, 2009 and 2010 all show that revenue for special education exceeded expenses. For the three years, the combined surplus of revenue over expenses is $298,467. For the same three years, general education costs always exceed revenues.
According to the letter to Manchester residents, Burr and Burton’s special education costs are “essentially fixed, with salaries and benefits comprising the overwhelming majority of expenses.” The letter said the school sets its staffing in April based on estimated enrollment for the coming year.
“Our revenues are determined based on actual enrollment. Thus, if enrollment exceeds budget, our revenues will increase. Similarly, if enrollment is less than budgeted, we could experience a shortfall. This dynamic — fixed costs, enrollment-based revenue — applies for regular education as well as special education,” the letter said.
Rainville also questioned Burr and Burton’s claims that money is taken from the school’s endowment to be used for educational costs. In letters that have been included in Manchester’s annual town report, Burr and Burton officials have said they take money out of the endowment to keep costs low for the taxpayers in its sending towns.
Burr and Burton is an independent school but it can accept tax dollars because it has “sending towns” with which it contracts. That agreement states that as long as those towns approve Burr and Burton’s tuition rate, Burr and Burton will accept all students from those towns.
The 990 forms do not show any money being withdrawn from the endowments in 2008 through 2011 but the letter said the withdrawal is shown in the school’s audited financial statements. The letter said the statements will be made available to the Manchester School Board. On Wednesday, Mark Tashjian, headmaster of the school, said the school would also allow the Rutland Herald to review those financial statements.
Asked why the 990 forms don’t show the money being withdrawn, Tashjian said Burr and Burton officials would meet with its auditors later this week to “review their work and ensure its accuracy.” Several voters who spoke at the floor meeting on Monday said they were rejecting Rainville’s motion because they didn’t believe they could or should dictate the terms of a contract.