Superintendent of Schools John Doherty and Director of Finance Gail Dowd presented the proposed $48,419,663 Fiscal Year 2021 School Department budget to the School Committee on Monday, January 6. This was the first of four School Committee meetings that will be devoted to the FY 2021 budget. The total amount of the proposal represents a 3.5% increase over the FY 2020 budget.
Doherty began with an overview of the proposed budget, highlighting areas in which the budget was crafted to achieve particular district improvement goals. Among these are adding a .5 Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) special education para-educator and 1.6 FTE special education teachers which includes a .6 FTE speech and language expert, to help align with the goal of decreasing the achievement gap. Along with this is funding for year two of the new social studies curriculum, an upgrade to the Algebra I program, and a new middle and high school foreign language curriculum to help align with the goal of refining standards-based instructional systems. Doherty concluded by reminding the committee that, “The focus is on the student.”
Doherty continued by providing insight into the administration cost center. The proposed budget for this cost center is $1,205,585 and represents 2.5% of the total budget. The proposal is a 10.2% increase over FY2020, mostly accounted for by the inclusion of a 1.0 FTE payroll/human resources (HR) administrative assistant. Doherty stated that this had been mentioned as a “community priority” in the October Financial Forum. In previous years, the municipal government and the school department have shared one employee, with the schools getting .4 FTE of the person’s time. The municipal government had a need for the entire FTE, and the need was also expressed for the extra .6 FTE in the school department as well, to serve the HR needs for the over 900 employees of the school system. Doherty continued to explain that this addition will also allow for some departmental redundancy for cases of extended leaves of absence.
The district-wide programs cost center, presented by Dowd, represents 4.2% of the total budget and with a proposed budget of $2,022,019 which is a .9% reduction from FY 2020. This reduction is a result of fewer technology license renewals expected for FY2021 than in FY2020, though Dowd noted that this is a cyclical expense, that may increase next year, despite efforts to balance these expenses year to year. Also, some field maintenance expenses were transferred to the municipal government’s core services. This was done, primarily for the new “turf II” field to ensure it receives the same maintenance as the primary turf field at the high school. School Committee member Thomas Wise asked if this was the cost center where an expenditure for new band uniforms might be placed. Chair Chuck Robinson recommended that discussion on issues of that type be reserved for later in the budget process. Dowd suggested that new band uniforms could cost upwards of $40,000.
Director of Facilities Joe Huggins shared the proposed school facilities budget of $1,427,974, which is 2.9% of the total budget with a proposed 2.8% increase. The proposed increase is almost entirely created by the cost of living increases for employees. Huggins highlighted how much effort the facilities department expends in standard and preventative maintenance throughout the year, evidence of which was reported by the Permanent Building Committee report to the School Committee this past summer. School Committee member Linda Snow Dockser commented, “If we short-change [maintenance], then it is the students who suffer.”
Huggins also reported that the “turf II” replacement was almost complete with just a few “punch list” items left to be finished. He shared that the project cost was $1,822,118. This is $402,882 under budget for the project. This balance will be returned to the town’s free cash reserves. He also shared items in the $465,000 FY 2021 capital plan for school buildings including telephone system replacement, water heaters at both middle schools, and updated technology wiring. Dowd reported that bids for the installation of the modular classrooms authorized by Town Meeting in November are on schedule.
The School Committee adjourned at 9:00 pm.