Burr and Burton filings raise questions about endowment, special education
By Patrick McArdle
STAFF WRITER | February 27,2013
Vyto Starinskas / Staff Photo
Burr and Burton Academy is shown Tuesday in Manchester.
MANCHESTER — Burr and Burton Academy has traditionally told voters that tuition doesn’t pay for all of the school’s expenses and that money is drawn from the endowment every year but financial reports required by the federal government do not show any money being withdrawn.
Seth Bongartz, chairman of the school’s board of trustees, said that 4 percent of the endowment is drawn down every year to pay for school expenses but couldn’t explain why the 990 form doesn’t show any money being taken out of the endowment going back at least to the 2008 fiscal year.
The most recent 990 for Burr and Burton, an independent high school which serves students in Manchester, Dorset, Sunderland and other northern Bennington County towns, shows a starting balance for the endowment of $10,665,064. Contributions are listed as $2,474,694 and the final balance for the year is listed as $13,139,758 which is the same as the sum of the starting balance and the contributions.
No deductions or expenses are listed as coming from the endowment.
Bongartz said Burr and Burton has been getting enough contributions to its endowment on an annual basis that the balance of the endowment grows each year. Bongartz said he has “no idea” why the withdrawal of funds is not noted on the 990.
GuideStar, an organization that gathers and publicizes information about nonprofits, describes the Internal Revenue Service Form 990 as an “annual reporting return that certain federally tax-exempt organizations must file with the IRS (which contains) information on the filing organization’s mission, programs and finances.”
Many schools in Vermont are seeing their budgets grow because of increases in special education costs. On the 990 forms for the fiscal years 2008, 2009 and 2010, however, Burr and Burton lists higher revenues than expenses for special education.
The 2010 report lists $1,540,538 in revenue but $1,427,459 in expenses, a difference of $113,079. For 2009, revenue is $1,668,021 while expenses are $1,607,859, a difference of $60,162. The 2008 990 form shows $1,728,975 in revenue and $1,603,749 in expenses, a difference of $125,226.
Bongartz said despite the 990 reports, Burr and Burton spends more on special education than they take in.
According to Bongartz, the special education budget does not include the costs of administrators, like the headmaster, assistant headmaster, dean of studies (and) dean of students; the business office; the maintenance department; and the cafeteria.
“I guess we could have moved numbers around to make them balance ... but we try to keep our special ed costs as low as possible because they’re expensive to the towns. We eat as many of the special ed costs as we can,” he said.
While not giving a specific amount, Bongartz said the school absorbs “far more than $100,000” in special education costs that are not paid by tuition.
When asked if the school would provide a copy of its audit for closer review of its financial reporting, Bongartz declined, saying he didn’t believe it was a public record.
Burr and Burton accepts taxpayer dollars as tuition for students in its role as a designated independent school. Because it’s not a public school, its budget is not part of the public record but it can accept state funding because of the agreement that it will accept all students from its sending towns.
Burr and Burton is a nonprofit but, like many high schools, deals with higher expenses than many Vermont businesses. According to the 2011 990 form, the school’s expenses for the year were $12,810,278 and Mark Tashjian, the school’s headmaster, was paid $168,361 with another entry that says almost $60,000 was paid as “other compensation from the organization and related organizations.”