January not only marks the beginning of a new calendar year, it is also a critical time for the Needham School Committee as it considers and votes a budget for the 2012-13 (FY ’13) school year. I appreciate the School Committee members’ advocacy around the development of a budget plan that will provide appropriate resources for the 5,500 students in our schools. The task ahead of them is difficult, and I know they will certainly appreciate feedback from the community at the FY13 Budget Public Hearing scheduled for Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 7:00 p.m. at Broadmeadow.
In the past few years, the School Committee, Selectmen, and especially the Finance Committee have worked diligently with us to bridge the revenue and expense gaps that have resulted from a shaky economy and diminished resources. Everyone has tightened their belts and the schools are no exception. Together we have pared back programs, reduced staff, and postponed improvements in order to adapt and to balance budgets. The schools have reallocated and repurposed available funding, increased class size, decreased funding for supplies and materials, and as part of the collective bargaining process, cut health care costs in a significant way.
This year the loss of Federal stimulus funds, growing secondary enrollment, and stagnant local and state funding has resulted in a sobering budget development process and discussion. We simply cannot bridge the revenue gap with further cuts, reduced services, and higher class sizes.
Instead, this time around, I proposed a 5.7% overall increase in the FY13 budget, which I think is a reasonable, prudent, and balanced plan that will have a positive impact on teaching and learning in the Needham Public Schools. It addresses contractual obligations, enrollment growth, state mandates (mostly unfunded mandates), and allows a tiny amount for program improvement. It is a responsive plan and one that meets the community’s high expectations for its children.
FY13 Budget highlights include:
• The total requested budget is $51,264,825, a 5.7% increase of $2.8 million over the current school year.
• 85% of the total budget proposal is for level service, which maintains existing programs and staffing levels. Level service meets ongoing contractual obligations, mandated special education services, increased transportation costs, and enrollment growth. Only 15% of the total budget proposal increase is for program improvements, and of that amount, over half is to improve mandated services (e.g., English Learner Language instruction) or to strengthen our technology infrastructure.
• In order to meet growing enrollment, especially at the secondary level, 13.5 new teachers and staff are included in the $2.8 million budget proposal.
• Special Education improvements in the budget plan also include an expansion of the Preschool and a reorganization of the PreK through Grade 12 special education program to meet student learning needs and to ensure special education services are more efficient and the costs more sustainable into the future.
Members of the School Committee and central office administration have been working closely with the Finance Committee to review the school budget plan in anticipation of a presentation to the full Finance Committee on January 18th. While supportive of identified needs in the schools, members of the Finance Committee are concerned that the proposed school budget exceeds available resources and may require reductions in Town services to fund the requests. They have asked the School Committee and school administration to reconsider some worthwhile budget requests. However, as your superintendent I am worried that reductions in this plan will further erode services parents and students have come to expect.
Through additional consultation with Town officials, I remain hopeful the Town will support this plan. I continue to believe this budget supports our district values and goals in a fiscally responsible way and in a way that strengthens student learning. And I am confident Town officials, school administrators, and parents, working together, are up to the challenge of finding a way to meet the critical needs of our children as they learn and grow in a community that cares deeply about them.
Please attend the School Committee’s FY13 Budget public hearing at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, January 17th at Broadmeadow to learn more about the budget proposal and voice your ideas, concerns, and support. You may also email the School Committee at: firstname.lastname@example.org .