Monthly Archives: April 2013

Where the Budget Sits on May 1

Those employees of the Town of Belmont and those citizens who have lived through many more budget seasons than have I know all too well that the school year budget is never over until the final gavel rings at Town Meeting, this year on June 3.  Even then, the Legislature may add or detract (usually add); and subsequent adjustments have to be endorsed by the School Committee.  Furthermore, in the course of the school year, there are always revisions and realignments, reviewed by the new finance subcommittee of the School Committee, and incorporated into the quarterly reports presented publicly at the School Committee meetings and to the Warrant Committee.

 

What I had described as a “dire” budget submission six weeks ago I now describe as “constrained.”  There have been some considerable adjustments proposed by Town Administrator David Kale and presented to the Board of Selectmen.  The adjustments bring us much closer to what we had described as a “roll-ahead” budget, funding that essentially keeps in place next school year what is in place this year.  The roll-ahead budget does not provide any of the proposed additions we had originally hoped to have like the new mathematics series, for example, or additional classes at the elementary schools without having to make other adjustments.  We are working with donors like the Foundation for Belmont Education to ensure that we do not fall behind on researching and implementing innovation initiatives.

 

Because we on May 1 still have a projected shortfall of about $180,000, we will refrain from filling two positions being vacated by retirements—one at the Central Office and one at Belmont High School.  Additionally, we will cut four class sections at the high school to make up the additional four-fifths of a position we need to trim to balance the budget.  Because we must have a fifth second grade at the Wellington, we are eliminating the grade-level aides that had been at the school.  We are also using the savings from the aides to support at least a half-time assistant principal for the Wellington.  We will continue to cap new enrollments at the Wellington.

 

Over the next several months, the School Committee will be working closely together and with the Board of Selectmen to plan for the long term.  We will need to anticipate continued enrollment growth and to stabilize major cost factors.  With the Town, we will also need to anticipate the kind of predictable income stream that provides some confidence about economic stability over the ensuing four to five years.

 

 

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Places to Go for Help

Certainly this spring school vacation week has been different from any other. Besides the bombings themselves, the fact that Belmont was in lock-down on Friday during the critical manhunt may well have an impact on our children for weeks and months ahead.

Our schools continue to be safe places and refuges for all our children and youth. If parents, teachers, or counselors detect anxiety or concern on the part of students, they should certainly bring those concerns to the attention of school staff. Additionally, parents may wish to refer to a couple of excellent websites that provide some useful information about dealing with children’s worries in the light of broad civil crises:

http://www.aacap.org/cs/root/resources_for_families/talking_to_children_about_community_violence.

http://rems.ed.gov/HelpingYouthandChildrenRecoverFromTraumaticEvents.aspx

Boston Children’s Hospital has also offered two sites for information that might be helpful:
http://childrenshospitalblog.org/talking-to-children-after-tragedy/
http://nctsn.org/trauma-types/terrorism

We all owe our deepest gratitude to the wonderful public safety officers from local, state, and federal jurisdictions. The Belmont Public School district continues to treasure its close, collegial working relationship with the Belmont Police Department and, indeed, with safety officials throughout the state. Those relationships help maintain the security of our schools and the safety of Belmont’s children and youth.

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Where Are We with Safety

After the Newtown, Connecticut, school murders, there was probably no school district in the country that did not review its safety protocols and infrastructure. We asked representatives from the Belmont community safety organizations (fire, police) to join with school department representatives to review our schools and procedures and to recommend improvements we might make. In the interim, I’ve also had the opportunity to join with Chief McLaughlin from the Belmont Police Department in attending safety forums; and others have attended symposia sponsored by the Middlesex Partnership.
The School Safety Advisory Group has completed two of its three charges.

The advisory group has surveyed the school buildings and properties. On the basis of their observations and expertise, we constructed a list of projects and priorities; and we requested up to $100,000 from the Belmont Capital Budget Committee to address the highest priorities. At the same time, we anticipate that previously scheduled projects will be completed within the current school year: for example, locked doors and video cameras at the Chenery Middle School.

The advisory group has just issued for review of the school administration a revision of the policies and procedures manuals; and we will be editing, revising, and printing those documents between now and the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year. In the interim, we have instituted some temporary measures such as the placement of building monitors at both the high school and middle school.

The last task on the advisory group’s list is to identify and recommend new or additional staff training. We have consistently engaged the building professionals in learning about emergency procedures; but with a review of those procedures and a new set of building manuals emerging, we need to determine how to revise our staff development program in such a way to ensure knowledge about, and yet protect the confidentiality and integrity of the procedures.

While a comprehensive review of building and personnel safety is always well undertaken, there can never be absolute assurance of total safety. For the full community to remain vigilant is a must if schools will continue to remain one of the safest environments for children.

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Next Phase Budget

What About Next Year

 

I have consistently described our submitted budget for next school year “dire”—not so much because we have to cut a huge number of staff positions or exercise a reduction-in-force.  Rather, the budget we have drafted, the Available Revenue Budget, is “dire” because it does not provide sufficient funds to maintain the programming and staffing currently in place.  By implication, then, the Available Revenue Budget, representing an increase of 2.65% over current funds, does not even allow us to meet the needs of what may be a student enrollment increase as big as 103 if the predictions of our most recent enrollment study by the New England School Development Council prove true.

 

I have emphasized that the budget we have had to submit as of this date does not meet what we would describe as True Level Service requirements—that is, what we know we need to do to meet present and projected student needs.  However, the proposed budget is not a cause for fear or panic.  We can live with what we have projected if we have to.  The one major unpredictable factor right now is what the state Chapter 70 funding will be, and we are not likely to have much of a hint of what that might be for Belmont until later in April.  Nonetheless, we must at present plan on how to live with only a 2.65% increase when contractual salary obligations alone require for next year an increase of 3.9%.

 

To meet the requirements of the tight budget, we have included so-called one-time-only funds like credits from the LABBB collaborative, the Town’s allocation from cash reserves, a draw-down of the special education Circuit Breaker funds, and a reallocation from the Town’s capital budget funds.  We had hoped to support the new elementary math series from operating funds.  Instead, we are asking to use almost $60,000 from a donation account the Town has and to supplement that one-time funding with support from the Foundation for Belmont Education to ensure implementation of the new program.  The problem with using these one-time-only funds is that once used, they are gone; there is no predictable replenishment of the funds.

 

After extensive discussions from January to the present with the Town Administrator, Board of Selectmen, and School Committee Subcommittee on Finance, after all the available revenue had been determined, and after all the one-time additional allocations were figured in, we were still about $425,000 short of a balanced, bare-bones budget.  To close that gap we anticipate having to reduce professional positions by 7.75.  The normal transition within staff—retirements, resignations, non-renewals—usually consists of 20 to 30 individuals each year.  That turnover is the reason we do not expect to issue among the present professional staff reductions-in-force.  However, to meet the increasing number of students in the elementary grades, we are planning to reduce the number of grade-level aides to afford the staffing for a necessary additional second grade class at the Wellington. Also, we are reviewing possibilities for rescheduling and reformatting some classes and grades and will be conferring with the Belmont Education Association since such changes are matters for impact bargaining.

 

Although we still have not determined specific positions to eliminate, and will not do so until much later this spring, we have to look at options at Belmont High School.  Although we do not wish to see larger classes at the high school or reduce the number of course offerings, if the current available funding does not increase, we will have to cut high school classes.

 

While we may hold out for some improvement once we know what the state’s actual Chapter 70 funding for Belmont is likely to be, next year will certainly be a constrained one fiscally.  What worries us even more are prospects for fiscal year 2015 and the school year that begins September 2014.  In my judgment, both the Town and schools will be at rope’s end without a voter-approved override of Proposition 2.5.

 

While this news is not good—the budget for fiscal year 2014 is “dire”—it could be worse.  We will certainly be providing staff updates about the budget and its prospects for the next school year and beyond as the weeks progress.  The School Committee is holding public meetings about the budget on April 1, 7:30 pm, the Wellington Community Room, and on April 4, 9:00 am, the Board of Selectmen’s Chamber.  The School Committee will formally vote to approve a budget submission on April 23.  Even then there will be additional meetings and forums to discuss the budget and—we might hope—make improving adjustments between then and the Town Meeting on budget, currently scheduled for June 3.

 

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