The budget includes a $40.3M ask from the town, just shy of the 4 percent cap
The School Committee approved a $47.7 million budget for fiscal year 2024 last week, accepting the budget as presented by Supt. Brian Ricca with the addition of a special education administrator (at the cost of $79,000). The budget now goes to the town. Town Manager Andy Nota must present a budget that includes the school budget to the Town Council by May 1.
In his April 4 presentation, Ricca noted that both the School Committee and the Town Council approved contracts with their various unions that included 3 percent raises for the next three years. Since the district is limited by state law to asking for no more than a 4 percent increase over the previous year’s town appropriation, that means Ricca was left with a single percentage point for everything else (around $380,000) – everything from new curriculum materials, office supplies, furniture, etc.
“There’s not a lot of wiggle room,” Ricca said.
Because of enrollment numbers, two additional elementary school teachers are needed next year. Health insurance is also up, after a remarkable dip last year, said Maggie Baker, finance director for the district.
Ricca’s budget includes using $850,000 from its fund balance (aka surplus). This year’s budget included $974,000 from fund balance. According to Baker, it looks like they might only need to tap the surplus this year for $775,000. The district’s surplus got a boost a couple of years ago, when the district changed its health insurance coverage and money banked away in the old plan was returned to the district. Using fund balance has become a regular part of the district’s budgeting practice, but Ricca said Tuesday he was getting uncomfortable with the amount of money the district was using from fund balance to pay operating expenses. (Fund balance is traditionally used for one-off expenses, say new technology or a surprise repair.)
Ricca also listed nice items (totaling $820,000) he said the district needed but were not in his budget.
- Self-contained classroom teacher $117,000
- Athletics trainer $81,500
- Special ed administrator $79,000
- .5 Occupational therapist at MFS $64,000
- Floater custodian $49,000
- Safety/security officer $39,500
- Increase current speech pathologist to 1.0 at Cole $38,000
- One building paraprofessional at Eldredge $37,000
- ESS program $315,000
Supt. Ricca said he was aware some on the Town Council may think the budget request was too high, even with the budget items above that did not make the budget. To add all of them to the budget and send that to the town would result in a request of 5.9 percent.
“I would be reluctant to do that,” said Ricca.
“This is not posturing,” said School Committee Chair Alyson Powell. “We’ve been able to manage, but there is no growth. We have not been able to pivot quickly when there are changes or needs. We’ve squeezed it down so small … trying to figure out that balance [with the town].” But, she added, “if we keep just making it small … how do we ever move forward?”
Committee member Gene Quinn agreed.
“I would argue that 4 percent is probably less than we need every year. I don’t know what’s going to fill that gap going forward. If nothing fills that gap, you slowly starve. This levy affects the entire community and the entire community’s ability to grow. So I don’t think there’s a lot of reasons to apologize for the 3.65% increase.”
The budget ended up $79,000 higher after Committee member Nicole Bucka proposed adding in the special education administrator position, noting that Neil Marcaccio was doing two jobs – student services (which includes special education) and MTSS coordinator and needed support. She also said the list of unbudgeted positions “disproportionately targeted” disabled students.
The budget was approved in a 6-1 vote, with Committeeman Will Hangan casting the lone no vote. He said he thought the panel should stick with what the superintendent had proposed.
The School Committee next meets on Tuesday, April 18.