Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Szymaniak presented what he calls a “level services-plus” budget of $57,955,988 — an increase of $2,635,750 (or 4.76 percent) to the School Committee on Wednesday, Feb. 24.
Under the proposal, Whitman’s assessment would be $16,827,516 with non-mandated busing costing $422,595 and high school capital costs at $427,835. Hanson’s assessment would be $13,114,756 with non-mandated busing costing $103,572, high school capital costs at $140,269 and capital/technology/HVAC costs at $277,465.
Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) II fund through the CARES Act is anticipated to deliver $1,001,000 to the district for the 2021-22 school year.
“We have not received it,” Szymaniak said. “There have been no checks sent.”
He noted that $10,000 of the ESSER money must be earmarked for social-emotional learning, but added there has been great discussion, but a lack of clarity over how the remaining money can be used.
“We have been told that 75 percent of the remaining funds will go back to the two towns in the form of helping them out with increases in their minimum local contributions,” he said.
About $350,000 could go to Hanson and $400,000-plus for Whitman, if the information bears out. More information is hoped for by the March 10 meeting.
That budget scenario depends on the district starting a traditional school year in September, and maintains current K-12 staffing levels and addresses anticipated student regression due to COVID-19, among other highlights.
“I believe what we’re asking for minimally supports our educational and operational needs,” he said.
The committee held its public hearing on the fiscal 2022 school budget remotely. School Committee member Dan Cullity was unable to attend due to what School Committee Chairman Bob Hayes described as an “emergency situation.”
Residents watching were able to submit questions, via the “raised hand” icon on the Zoom session, prior to or following Szymaniak’s budget presentation. No questions preceded the budget presentation.
Szymaniak also outlined the online budget process and timeline:
• March 10, line-by-line budget detail presentation;
• March 17, budget vote;
• April 14, budget session (tentative); and
• April 28, budget session (tentative).
An additional School Committee meeting, specifically about the process for reopening the schools is planned for Wednesday, March 3.
Szymaniak listed eight items of concern related to the budget, which are currently out of the district’s control right now: the fall school opening date, contracts of all bargaining units, retirements and contractual obligations, state Chapter 70 aid, transportation reimbursements, special education tuitions, health and building insurance, and the Whitman water bill.
“Our goal is to bring all of our students back and in-person, but (Education Commissioner Jeff Riley) also outlined an option for students who are remote — giving parents the option of remote learning — through the end of this school year,” Szymaniak said. “I don’t know next year if that is going to be an option for our students.”
He said if remote learning is an option for the 2021-22 school year, officials “have to think long and hard” about how it affects the FY ’22 school budget.
The budget Szymaniak presented did not include the option for any student.
“This budget includes additional special education programming [$570,000] to try to retain our students from going out of district,” Szymaniak said. “It’s an initial cost in this budget, but as years go by — and even in this fiscal year — we will see monies coming back to the district and keeping our kids here.”
A high school science teaching position [$75,000], cut a couple of years ago will prevent the need to have a teacher instruct out of their license area, which the state does not allow.
Refreshing the district’s inventory of outdated Chromebooks [$150,000] is also included in the budget. Devices reaching end of life no longer support software for the MCAS exams.
Four staff positions, one of which would facilitate special education efforts, aimed at intervening in student regression at the elementary and middle school levels is forecast to cost about $375,000.
“I’m speaking of academic intervention,” said Assistant Superintendent George Ferro. “What we would like to do is have a district elementary intervention team.”
Regression is also a concern with special education, explained Director of Student Services Lauren Mathisen.
“Unfortunately a lot of our students in out-of-district programs have experienced COVID-related shut-downs,” she said. “Many students have missed five, six weeks or more of their education and these are students who really require structure and routine in their program to make progress.”
Interruptions mean added expenses to support services to the students, including home visits.
Since 2014, when the approved budget was $44,576,361, district budgets have been slowly increasing, with the fiscal 2020 budget at $55,320,238 representing a 5.5-percent increase over the 2014 budget.
“We are starting to get back on track from the losses of 2015 and 2016, Szymaniak said.
Whitman-Hanson received $24,776,700 in Chapter 70 state aid in 2020.
“We receive quite a bit of money from the state, compared with some other local districts, and we’re getting there, but we’re still spending less per-pupil than other districts,” he said.
Increases sought in the budget include $1,071,450 for salary lines to accommodate union negotiations, $100,000 for health insurance and $90,000 in transportation in addition to the science teacher, regression intervention, special ed and technology requests.
Of the $57,955,988 in the fiscal 2022 budget, salaries comprise $31,154,756 of the total and expenses $26,801,232.
The district also covers, within the budget, $9,455,513 in employee benefits and support expenses covered by towns in non-regional districts.
Revenues include $25,951,287 in state revenue, $31,314,008 from assessments, $600,000 in Circuit Breaker special education assistance, $90,693 in local receipts.
School Committee member Dawn Byers asked to see class size numbers at a future meeting swell as questions on special education and social-emotional support programs.
Szymaniak said enrollment studies for both towns should be completed by the March 10 meeting, although he said he was not certain if class size numbers would be available by then.