School Department makes case for expanded budget request to FinCom

The Finance Committee met with representatives of the School Committee on March 15 to receive a presentation regarding the School Committee’s intention to seek an additional $588,000 in funding over the amount suggested by the Finance Committee. The increase would increase the budget for fiscal year 2018 to $41,889,661. The increase would allow the School Department to preserve the existing Middle School foreign language courses and continue a revamp of the district’s science curriculum.

A porition of the increase, $150,000, was agreed upon last year as year two of a three-year phasing in of the district’s new science curriculum and will be taken from the town’s free cash reserves. The School Committee is also asking for an additional $438,000 to maintain the Middle School foreign language classes. It was decided to make this request after many Middle School parents and students implored the School Committee to save the program. Town Manager Robert LeLachuer presented a plan in February whereby expected town budget savings and efficiencies could be used to help provide some of the shortfall. Some of these would come from delaying a few projects until Fiscal Year 2019 and later. The School Department would do the same, looking to achieve savings from out of district special education placements, and from monies saved from retirement. It is unlikely that all of these added together would add up to the $438,000 needed to save the program. Once budget numbers become clearer later in the year, the Subsequent Town Meeting may have to be asked to provide the balance from the town’s free cash reserves.

The job of developing the budget for 2018 has been made all the more challenging after the Proposition 2 1/2 override met defeat last October. Salaries make up 83% of the School Department budget, and many of the remaining 17% of expenses are mandated by state regulations. To effect the cuts needed to present a balanced budget, 10.9 positions have already been eliminated from the budget. If Town Meeting were to deny the request for the additional funds, another seven positions would be lost, all in Middle School foreign language.

The Finance Committee considered going into an executive session to be able to discuss the issue more frankly. Town Meeting member Linda Phillips, in attendance at the meeting, objected to the idea, feeling that the Committee needed to act with as much transparency as possible. Concern was also expressed about the best manner in which the Committee could fulfill its primary task of advising Town Meeting on financial matters, and questioned if an executive session would aid in this task. The Committee decided not to use executive session to discuss the School Department budget. As the meeting was ending, School Committee member Linda Snow-Dockser thanked the Town Manager, the Finance Committee and the Selectmen for listening to their concerns and for acting collaboratively throughout the budget process.

Finance Committee Chair Mark Dockser stated, “At next week’s meeting we will talk about what budget to bring forward (to Town Meeting) and how to fund it.” The Finance Committee’s next meeting, is scheduled for March 22 at 7:30 PM.


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