The Town Council and School Committee met in joint session Dec. 7 for the first time since early 2020 to begin discussions in advance of next year’s budget – fiscal year 2023, which begins July 1, 2022.
This state-mandated meeting is more of a chance for both the town and the schools to set the stage for tougher conversations to come.
For the schools, according to Supt. Alexis Meyer, there are several variables, including the settlement of a new teachers contract (the other two bargaining units – paraprofessionals and custodians – have been settled). Other variables are perennial in nature, including health insurance costs, state education aid, special education, transportation, and out-of-district placements.
The district is trending about $100,000 over budget for the current year (FY2022) – the budget is $43.6 million (with $38.1 million coming from the town) and it’s trending at $43.7 million. Savings in personnel have been offset by increases in, primarily, COVID-related expenses, including additional bus monitors and tents.
Meyer also outlined how federal COVID dollars have been used by the district – the first $150,000 for distance and hybrid learning tools and more recent money ($239,000 and $537,000 in different phases of ESSER funding) has and is being used primarily for additional staff and training, targeting learning loss.
Enrollment numbers are up this year over last, but at 2,614 students total, that lags fall 2019 numbers by 26 students. Meyer said new district enrollment projections will be released soon. You can find Meyer’s complete presentation HERE.
On the town side, property values have increased 12 percent in the recent revaluation. That’s a big increase over previous years, where values increased less than 1 percent.
The total town budget this year is $71.6 million. Town Manager Andy Nota noted in his presentation (find it HERE) that the schools make up 66.5 percent of the budget with the town’s part coming to 33.4 percent.
According to Nota, the town’s tax collection rate is up a little bit over 2020. And additional money continues to be collected from back property taxes. But fluctuations in staffing have resulted in higher overtime costs.
Revenue through departments (fees, permits, etc.) is up and so is the meals and beverage tax revenue.
All four collective bargaining contracts are up this next year (police, fire, municipal workers, and laborers) and Nota said 2.5 percent pay increases were possible.
“We’re looking comprehensively at this,” he said. “There’s incredible upward compensation pressure.”
The town still has $3.9 million in federal American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds. Nota has outlined how he envisions using the money (including wastewater treatment plant, sidewalks, HVAC upgrades and IT expenditures), but the Town Council will make the final decisions. Look for more discussion and decisions in 2022.
The Town Council and School Committee are due to meet again in February.