Supt. Victor Mercurio told the School Committee Tuesday night that the current budget for fiscal year 2016 is 5.41 percent higher than last year, more than $500,000 above the state-allowed increase of 4 percent. That’s without adding the costs of implementing full-day kindergarten, pushing back school start times or changing the school calendar. The School Committee is currently looking into all three of those possibilities.
The budget is a 5.41 percent increase over last year.
“For the last three years we have been under 2.25 percent,” said Mercurio, referring to the budget sent to the Town Council. He noted that the budgets those previous years had been “closer to 4 percent” at this stage.
The primary drivers of the increase are negotiated salary and benefit increases (for a total of $1.2 million) and additional staff ($270,000).
Mercurio said new staff – teachers and aides (paraprofessionals) – is needed to accommodate rising enrollment. That figure does not include any new hires that would be required to implement all-day kindergarten.
“The numbers in the district are not going down, they are going up,” he said.
While the school district can get up to a 4 percent increase, the Town Council has requested the increase be 2.1 percent, which would take a cut of more than $1.1 million in the budget as it stands now.
Here are the breakdowns as presented last night:
Budget cut To Achieve This Budget Increase
With regard to adding all-day kindergarten (at a potential cost of up to $800,000) or later school start times (no figures there yet, but some costs associated with transportation could be involved), Mercurio said funding them this year with the numbers as they stand now would reach into the classroom. (It’s unclear that changing the academic calendar would incur cost.)
“You would be significantly changing or reducing existing programs to include any of the proposals,” he said.
The School Committee told Mercurio to work with district administrators to cut the budget down to a 2 percent increase over last year, based on a suggestion from Committeewoman Deidre Gifford.
“I don’t anticipate we will stay there,” said Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Mark after the meeting, “but the thinking was that if we start with what the most severe cuts would look like, we can add things back in based on our priorities. Theoretically, we could prioritize some of the new proposals (that are not reflected in the current draft budget) over what’s currently in the budget, but I don’t know how likely that is.”
The committee meets next on Tuesday, March 3, in the library at Cole Middle School at 7 p.m. They must send an approved budget to the Town Council by March 15.
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