March 1, 2010
I hope that the school committee will meet on Wednesday, March 3 to conduct business and hold the public hearing on the FY’11 school district budget. Due to some unusual weather conditions, the school committee has not been able to meet to review the first draft of the budget. This has evidently led some individuals to question the veracity of the budget and its ability to meet the needs of both our students and our towns next year. Unfortunately, major snow storms (predicted or actual) on the last two meeting dates forced the cancellation of school and when school is cancelled so are all after-school activities, including school committee meetings.
In the meantime, there have been some positive changes to the budget, compared to what I shared several weeks ago, due to having some better-defined numbers on several items. I’m sure that everyone is aware that the budget changes constantly during the time it’s first presented to the time it’s voted on at town meetings. These changes are due to several items. The major factor is time, as we must have the budget numbers to the towns 45 days before the first town meeting and, more often than not, we do not have the state revenue figures for Chapter 70 and regional transportation reimbursement until much later in the budget cycle. The second major reason is that actual numbers for items such as health insurance, utilities and other services are often nailed down during the budget adoption period. The third item, which mainly impacts each town’s share of the budget, is the March 1 student census. This census determines what each town pays in their assessments and has always been our practice (i.e., each year’s budget is based on the previous March 1st census). Thus changes to student numbers—whether they be students choicing out of district, electing to home school, families moving out of the district or even new students entering the district—don t impact the budget until the following budget year (and the new March 1st census). This provides a stable and equalized sharing of expenses over the years without major changes to adopted town budgets within a fiscal year that would occur if the district had to change assessments every time student numbers changed.
I’m hopeful that most people also understand that the budget costs to the towns come in three different numbers—minimum contributions, non-foundation contributions, and above minimum contributions (that total equaling the difference between total budget expenses and state funding to the district). The minimum is the difference between what the state says must be spent on education and what the state pays in Chapter 70 aid to schools. The district doesn’t set this amount; it is established by the state based upon a number of factors including each town’s ability to pay. Non-foundation is the cost of capital items and transportation and is based upon the percentage of students by town in the March 1 census. This amount is based upon the cost of these items and the amount of money the district gets in regional transportation reimbursement. The third item, above minimum, covers the cost of running a district that isn’t covered by the minimum budget and is mainly a result of the state’s formula for determining educational costs being based on poor assumptions and a much larger district size. In reality, the only contribution the towns can vote down is the above minimum—both the minimum and non-foundation are required payments for each town.
The 2010-11 budget shows an overall decrease in expenditures of 2.81% ($481,584), using revenue numbers from the Governor’s House 2 budget. As shared previously, this budget doesn’t layoff teachers or paraprofessionals, provides additional student services, eliminates multi-age classes and provides average elementary class sizes of fewer than 20 students. This budget also provides an average increase in town assessments of less than 1%, or $95,552 across all seven towns. If this budget passes, the average school district budget increase over the past 8 years will be under 1% (compared to the Consumer Price Index of 2.76%). I’m well aware that compensation of school employees, especially administrators, is always a difficult issue to discuss during the budget debates. In the current budget, the overall increase in total teacher compensation from FY’07 to FY’11 (as a percentage of the budget) has increased 4.1%, the cost of building principals and supervision has increased 1.4% (as a percentage of the budget) while the cost of the central office has remained a constant percentage of the budget (0 % change). In fact, the overall cost of administrators district- wide in FY’11 is expected to be less than the cost in FY’07.