This week, we presented our preliminary budget to the Finance and Facilities Committee of the Board of School Committee for the upcoming school year. The full board will vote on the budget this Wednesday, Feb. 22, but before they do, there is a public hearing. That hearing starts at 7 p.m. on the 22nd with the special budget meeting to follow. You can view our budget presentation here.
I want to take a few moments to give an overview of the budget process and provide some details on our proposal. I’ll start with some background on the budget process.
The budget is a yearly process for the school district – it’s how we fund regular operations and deliver services throughout the year. The school budget is separate from the city budget, and it’s subject to approval by both the Board of School Committee and the Board of Mayor and Aldermen. We are required to create a budget that does not exceed the tax cap each year.
The tax cap amount varies, and this year, the cap amount was $1.6 million less than last year, so our budget is leaner than last year. When we build our budget, many of our expenses carry forward from the prior year, with the biggest ones being salaries and benefits for employees. In addition, as we built this budget, we had to factor in a number of increased expenses, related to the following priorities and obligations:
- Change to a $15 an hour minimum wage for district employees
- Cost of living raises for employees
- Health insurance costs
- Lowering class sizes
- Increasing athletics opportunities
- Busing for middle school afterschool programs
- New Aramark agreement
You likely know that we have also received significant federal funding through the COVID-19 relief programs known as ESSER. These funds have specific uses, and for the most part cannot be used to cover our normal budget expenses. Instead, we are using these funds to support learning loss recovery from COVID-19 and upgrade ventilation systems at our schools.
When we build a yearly budget, we are forecasting expenses for the coming year. Occasionally due to forces outside of our control, those expenses are higher than what we project. In the last budget, we saw our special education and transportation expenses skyrocket. We are working to address the roots of those increases, but we must still budget for them in the coming year. We are able to use $10 million in one time ESSER funds to cover this shortfall.
What all this means is that the tax-cap compliant budget we have submitted is lean. It meets our goal of stabilizing the District, and helps us continue to meet the needs of our students, and avoid any potential staff reductions.
However, this does not necessarily present an accurate picture of the District’s needs. Members of the Board of School Committee have requested that the District ask for what is actually needed. As we approached the budget process, our district departments presented requests for additional funding. These requests are represented in our budget presentation as additional needs. These are needs, not wants, however due to the tax cap, we cannot fit them into the budget without cutting positions, supplies or activities.
Building a budget is a difficult task, and we do our best to meet needs within the constraints we have. Our tax-cap compliant budget continues to move us forward, but we also recognize that there is more we need to do.
As we continue to move through the budget process, I will keep you updated. As a reminder, the school board will hold a public hearing on the budget at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 22. If you want to share your thoughts on the budget, this is the best time to do so.
Superintendent of Schools