School Committee approves $31.2M budget for FY19

May 10, 2018 by

Published in the May 10, 2018 edition

By JILLIAN STRING

NORTH READING — Director of Finance and Operations Michael Connelly presented the final budget figures for fiscal year 2019 (FY19) to School Committee members Monday evening.

After months of working to close a more than $400,000 budget gap, school officials and School Committee members believe the FY19 budget preserves fiscal responsibility while continuing to move the district forward according to the current strategic plan known as NRPS 2021. 

“We made some tough decisions over the last week or so to recommend a budget for approval this evening,” Connelly stated. “We were originally requesting a budget increase of 5.3%, $31,198,533…based on the final revenue plan, actually as of 4 p.m. today, we have a final revenue School Department budget guideline from the finance planning team of $30,746,047. That would be a 3.8% budget increase over fiscal year 2018.”

According to Connelly, this will be the third consecutive year of a 3.8% budget increase, which essentially represents level services across the district.

Creative thinking yields balanced budget

In an effort to preserve necessary changes in keeping with NRPS 2021, many small adjustments were made to a number of areas in the original recommended budget.  

The largest factor in balancing the FY19 budget will come from an increase in state funding via extraordinary relief funds and special education circuit breaker funds. This represents a savings of approximately $160,000.

Staffing changes are also expected to represent a significant savings. The recommended budget included the addition of 3.9 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions. The new balanced budget will decrease this addition to 3.0 FTE, and will include a 1.0 FTE school adjustment counselor and 0.6 FTE academic teacher at the high school, a 1.0 FTE elementary team chairperson, and a 0.4 school psychologist at the Batchelder School. These positions will fill the most critical vacancies for the 2018-2019 school year. This reduction, combined with projected attrition (a reduction in numbers due to resignation or retirement) of staff will result in a savings of approximately $143,723.

The remaining $133,763 in savings will come from a variety of sources, including a projected reduction in out-of-district costs, reducing school operating budgets, reducing small capital and equipment budgets, reducing extraordinary maintenance restoration, and reducing miscellaneous fees such as legal, unemployment, and postage.

“These (reductions) have the least harmful impact with a priority in protecting the educational classroom and curriculum and the least impact on the overall student experience,” Connelly said.

Financial risks

In order to create a balanced FY19 budget, the district has to absorb some risk in several areas.

The potential for changes in special education placements and circuit breaker funding will be a significant factor on the budget, as student needs can be unpredictable and the state may choose not to fund the circuit breaker program at a projected 70% reimbursement rate.

There is also a heavy reliance on one-time carry over revenue, which will deplete reserves for future endeavors.

Also, staff attrition savings may not be realized, and maintenance costs may rise.

A total team effort

The School Committee recognized the efforts of Connelly and the administrative team.

“I want to thank Michael especially, his team, the entire administrative staff, town officials, and everybody for coming together and getting us to a point where we can add some critical positions that we feel are necessary, that school children need,” School Committee Chairman Mel Webster commented. “It’s not everything we wanted. We’re never going to get everything we wanted. There are some critical positions we aren’t filling.”

“We have an obligation every single year to educate the children in the district, and we can’t wait for additional tax revenues to come. Some of the positions that we’re finally able to fund have been on this list at least one year if not a couple of years. There’s some that have been on even longer that are still not being funded,” committee member Scott Buckley added. “We all felt that this was a year we had to add (staff positions). Nobody wants to look back and say that we regret something because we didn’t find the money to add what we needed to do.”

Committee member Janine Imbriano noted that the additions in staff made this the best budget that she has seen come through.

Both Webster and Superintendent Jon Bernard attributed the success of the budget to the highly collaborative efforts of everyone involved.

The School Committee voted unanimously to approve the FY19 budget, which can be viewed on the school website.

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