W-H school officials outlined two possible budget packages — a required spending plan of $55,017,938 to provide level services and a $57,492,938 recommended plan that seeks to restore or add programs and teachers either cut or not included in fiscal 2020.
“Gone are the days of the worksheet with ‘this is the increase we want … and this is a 1 percent increase, this is a 2 percent increase on that sheet,’” said Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Szymaniak. “We don’t do that sheet anymore with the statutory formula.”
Last year, cuts made to balance the budget put it below level service in terms of programs.
The budget presentation and hearing was held Wednesday, Feb. 5.
“There’s been quite a bit of conversation, dialog, emotion about the school budget and the method of assessment,” Szymaniak said about the process that began in August 2019. “Many people worked both publicly and behind the scenes to put together this presentation here, using the statutory method.”
He noted that officials in both towns’ administrative offices, select boards and finance committees have been meeting and discussing ways to make the fiscal 2021 budget work for the students of Whitman and Hanson.
“This isn’t the only piece of information that will be available to the community and the School Committee,” Szymaniak said of the PowerPoint printout and budget worksheets made available to the committee and audience members at the meeting.
“We are currently working on feedback we received last year concerning a history of our line items,” Szymaniak said. “That document will be available and I ask people to be patient.”
The required budget would represent an overall increase of 4.94 percent, or $2,592,200. The recommended budget would increase the bottom line by another 4.72 percent, or $2,475,000 — a total increase of 9.66 percent, or $5,067,200.
Local assessments for the required budget would mean $11,903,983 for Hanson, with $200,345 in non-mandated busing; $141,080 in capital/technology for Hanson school buildings and $292,252 for high school debt service. Whitman’s assessment would be $14,974,512, with $300,016 in non-mandated busing and $427,648 for high school debt service.
Local assessments for the recommended budget would mean $12,894,973 and $16,458,522.
“The recommended number includes everything that we are looking for as a regional school district now and in the next five years,” Szymaniak said.
Required expenses include salaries (52 percent or $29,693,543), pension costs, regular day transportation, custodial services, utilities, health insurance, trash, special education transportation and tuition, facilities and curriculum costs. Non-salary expenses, which make up 48 percent of the budget total $27,799,395. Of that figure, $5 million represents under-funded or unfunded mandates.
Per pupil costs of $12,740 put the district at 19th from the bottom in the state, compared to Abington at $13,461; Rockland at $15,567 and a state average of $15,952. The district has been as low as fifth from the bottom in past years.
Revenue sources, meanwhile, are $28,249,836 (51.03 percent) from assessments, $25,200,534 (45.52 percent) from net state aid, $1,313,976 (2.37 percent) from grants, $450,000 (.81 percent) in Circuit Breaker funds and $150,000 (.27 percent) from local receipts.
Programs included in the recommended budget are returning four teachers cut last year and an additional 10 teachers to return foreign language and reading services at the middle schools. It also includes new programs — a robotics program the BRYT medical transition program for students returning from mental or physical health hospitalization at the middle schools, expansion of special ed programs, as well as full-day kindergarten and adjustment of the school start time.
Szymaniak said some items on the recommended list, such as all-day kindergarten and a change in start times are not things he is looking to incorporate into the budget this year, but he also wants to outline programs and materials the district needs.
The high school also faces and issue about capital items reaching end of life, such as phone wiring, which has not been addressed once the school was built.
“When I say we are going on Amazon to fix things, we are,” Szymaniak said. “We’re at end of life for support.”
The governor’s budget came out two weeks ago, and District Business Manager John Tuffy is part time, which limits the time he could spend on those figures.
Tuffy explained how the state calculates the district’s foundation budget of $40,719,547 and required district contribution of $20,274,291.
He also went through the state-required steps toward calculating the statutory assessments. The budget figure, less reimbursement, aid and tuitions determine the net budget — $26,452,087 or a $52,357,657 budget and subtracts the required minimum local contribution — $9,328,114 for Hanson and $11,117,142 for Whitman — to determine the total to be assessed, $6,006,831. Divided by the towns’ enrollment percentages, Hanson’s assessment is $2,405,135.13 and Whitman’s is $3,601,831 plus non-mandated transportation costs, additional operations and debt service costs for totals of $12,104,327.84 for Hanson and $15,274,529.16 for Whitman.
“The hope was to show you the method that we have, give you the chance to think about it — certainly the finance committees and the town administrators — and the, perhaps, respond to questions from the towns or the school committee,” Tuffy said.
Szymaniak said all the budget information will be posted on the district’s website.
“What we really wanted to present was the here and now, what we’re looking for and [where] we’re looking to go in the next few years,” Szymaniak said.
Enrollments, meanwhile are decreasing — down from 4,104 in 2015 to a projected enrollment of 3,755 in 2021.
“Decreased enrollment means a decrease, potentially, in state aid,” Szymaniak said. “We’re fighting that battle of losing kids.”
He pointed to vocational schools for those programs as well as charter schools and school choice because of full-day kindergarten. Smaller families are also a factor, Szymaniak said.
Staff reductions in fiscal 2020 included 9.2 teaching positions, six paraprofessionals, one special ed out of district coordinator, three duty aides, a central office staff member and one person from facilities. Three elementary counselors were added, bringing the net staff reductions to 19.2.
Additionally, $590,000 was taken from excess and deficiency and $290,000 was cut from supplies to help balance the budget.
“I also want to be careful talking about the two towns and what they can afford,” said School Committee member Dawn Beyers. “It also comes down to what they can afford.”
She said that 96 percent of the state’s kindergarten pupils attend full-day kindergarten, in Whitman 60 percent of kindergarten pupils attend a full-day program.
“We’re losing kids because of all-day kindergarten, and we lose them for the duration,” said School Committee Chairman Bob Hayes.
State grants offered to set up such programs ended in 2016.
“You have teachers in this district who are working hard day and night, weekend and night, because we don’t provide them as a school district with what they need, research-based in 2020 in order to teach students effectively, in my mind, as the assistant superintendent,” George Ferro said.