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.