Tuesday, January 26, 2010

First the bad news...

This week I will ask the Needham School Committee to vote on a budget plan totaling $46,059,078 for the 2010-11 school year (Fiscal Year 2011), a 1.49% increase, or $676,193, over the current year. Unfortunately, due to the current economic realities we face locally and as a nation, we have been unable to craft a budget that will allow us to retain the same level of service next year that we enjoy this year. Nonetheless, it is a prudent plan and one that requires us to slow down, but not halt, progress on various district goals and initiatives.

It has also become clear that the following year (2011-12) will present its own challenges as well and will require further cuts and reductions unless there is a new and stable source of revenue. We will utilize over $600,000 in one time and federal stimulus funds to balance the FY11 budget; but the following year we will face a funding cliff in the same amount because that money dries up.

Increased staff contractual obligations and rising special education costs are two of the budget drivers for FY11. Unfortunately, local and state revenues are down resulting in significant decreases in aid to the schools and town. For example, one state program we rely on to reimburse the schools for certain special education costs is down over $600,000. We must still provide the service, but we have to reduce other areas of the budget in order to make up the shortfall. Increased student enrollments, particularly at the secondary level, place additional and growing pressure on this and future budgets.

We have worked hard to avoid reductions to classroom teachers, but with over 88% of our total budget in staff salaries, most of that teachers, it is impossible to avoid classroom cutbacks. We first reduced professional development, supplies, conferences, and then cut back on administration and administrative support. Ultimately, however, we had to cut three elementary teachers, two and a half middle school teachers, and up to two high school teachers to balance the budget. These cuts, though painful, are measured, balanced and will maintain reasonable class sizes, consistent with School Committee policy, throughout the district.

Now here is the good news: A lot of good folks are working very hard to ensure an appropriate and reasonable level of support for the schools in one of the worst economic climates in generations.

The work is not over. We await news from Beacon Hill around the State budget plan for FY11. New or reduced revenue could ultimately affect decisions around the school budget. And the Finance Committee, working closely and collaboratively with the Selectmen and School Committee, will continue to review the Town and School budgets as they prepare for their budget recommendation to Town Meeting in May.

Here is the best news: Using the resources the community provides, Needham’s teachers, administrators, and support staff will continue to provide a consistent and first rate educational program to the best students around.

We know the community has high expectations and wants the staff, administration, and School Committee to work very hard to ensure we are providing an optimal level of service to each child. We will continue to scour the budget for efficiencies, seek grant opportunities for funding, and look to economize wherever possible. We are dedicated to providing each Needham student with a competent, qualified, and inspiring teacher within a supportive learning environment.

The dollars may be hard to come by, but you can take our collective commitment to the bank.

For more information about the FY11 Budget plan, check out our website:


  1. Dear Dr. Gutekanst,
    Is it true you are taking a $13K raise in these tough economic times.
    Perhaps you could turn this down and use it to keep part of a teacher or TA?
    concerned parent

  2. Dear Anonymous Parent:

    Let me first say that I do not believe in responding to "Anonymous" queries or comments. I think it is important and transparent to put your name out there, especially when the topic is not particularly controversial.

    Nonetheless, thanks for the question. I have asked the Needham School Committee to keep my salary the same next year as it is this year.

    Dan Gutekanst