February 8, 2010
At this writing, we are scheduled to present the FY'11 budget (for the 2010-11 school year) at the February 10 School Committee meeting. As requested by the committee, this is an improvement budget meaning that it builds slightly on the services offered in this year’s budget.
The bottom line of this budget is an overall decrease of 1.98% over the current year's budget—made possible by the consolidation of our elementary schools. If the legislature supports the Governor's request for educational aid, this budget would yield an average increase in town assessments of approximately 2.6%. If this budget is accepted by the towns, it would mean that the average yearly increase in the district's budget since 2003 is less than 1%--certainly a reasonable amount given the average increase in the cost of doing business over this time period was 2.76% and town expenditures (without educational costs 2003-2008) grew by an average of 7.4%.
What does this budget do for our students? It provides for individual classes throughout the district without having to do multi-grade classes, does not have any layoffs of teachers or paraprofessionals, and yields an average class size of 22. It provides teacher coaching in mathematics and literacy from kindergarten through grade 6, provides foreign language at the elementary level, supports behavioral interventions and support programs in all buildings, supports academic interventions for struggling students, maintains an academic/curriculum position and restores the district’s nursing leader to regular status. This budget also increases bandwidth capacity in the district, maintains technology support at its current level, increases library support, replaces retiring teachers and adds a teacher for literacy and world language in grades 7-12, and provides support for a volunteer coordinator and educational foundation.
There are 2 questions that might quickly come to mind after reading this information about the 2010-2011 budget: how does a decrease in the bottom line yield an increase in town
assessments, and how does a decrease in the bottom line yield increased student services? While these questions have been answered in the past, it is certainly worth repeating them again. In terms of budget and assessment numbers, it’s important to remember that the revenue side of the equation depends largely on state and federal aid to education. Due to the consolidation of schools, the district now has a 14-year commitment to repay the state for renovating the three schools that will close. Our understanding is that this payment will be deducted from the state’s educational aid to Gateway, meaning a decrease of $327,655 each year for the next 14 years. Coupled with $50,000 less in transportation reimbursement, a loss of $17,500 in early childhood revenue and changes in the state’s funding formula, these changes net a small increase in town assessments even with a decrease in overall expenditures. We are able to have a decrease in overall expenditures due to changes in operating procedures and the consolidation of elementary schools, and have used part of this savings to increase student services and part of it to reduce town assessments. In short, the money that was once spent on servicing and maintaining three buildings for fewer than 200 students is now being spent on student services and reducing town costs. It’s important to keep in mind that although we’re repaying the Massachusetts School Building Authority, if we had kept five elementary schools open our total expenses would have increased by over $800,000, without increasing student services. This would have yielded an overall increase in the bottom line of the budget (rather than a decrease as projected), fewer services to students (none of the items mentioned in additional services above would have been possible) and increased town assessments significantly.
The final ‘bottom line’ is not the savings to our member towns but rather the ability to provide increased services to our preK-12 students, more equity in class sizes, eliminating multiage classes and increasing teacher effectiveness.