More on last night’s School Committee meeting

At the risk of muddying the water about what has and hasn’t happened yet re: the School Budget, School Committee member Ann Rittenburg has provided a detailed comment to my post from early this AM. Ann provides some more context to the budget debate and clarification of some key points, so I thought I’d copy her comment to B2 in its entirety as a separate post.

Ann Rittenburg, School Committee Member writes….

Hi Paul!

I just wanted to provide some clarification about exactly what it was that went on at the School Committee meeting last evening and where things stand now.

Last night, the School Administration presented the School Committee with a list of reductions that will, in their very carefully considered opinion, need to be made in order to reduce the FY09 School Budget Peter Holland originally presented on January 15th down to the dollar figure that the School Department was given by the Warrant Committee on February 13th.

On January 15th, Peter Holland proposed a budget that requires $39,824,999 of revenue to fund. On February 13th, the Warrant Committee told the School Department that based on current revenue forecasts and decisions about how to allocate that revenue; it appears that there will only be $38,205,771 available to fund the FY09 School Budget. That is $1,619,228 LESS than what the Superintendent was originally proposing. The Warrant Committee asked the School Department to produce the list of what would need to be cut from the budget, in order to get to the bottom line figure of $38,205,771, so that they could have a clearer sense of what the implications of not closing the gap between requested expenses and available revenues would be.

The Town Administrator was also given a bottom-line figure for the Town Departments, and asked to produce his list of necessary reductions. (He presented that list to the Selectmen on Monday night.)

The Superintendent and Town Administrator were asked to report back to the Warrant Committee with these list of necessary reductions at the February 27th meeting (Tonight!)

So, as requested, the School Administration produced the list of necessary reductions. They then presented that list to the School Committee last night, before bringing it to the Warrant Committee tonight.

With Exhibit A from last night’s SC meeting in hand (which you have provided links to), Gerry Missal walked the School Committee through the necessary reductions (and I will now walk you through them, too!)

He began by alerting the SC to some budget adjustments that have been made since January 15th, when the budget was originally proposed.
– utility rates went up, but we will offset them by using additional money from our building rental revolving account (the schools rent out their buildings to a variety of organizations, charge fees for that, and those fees go into the building rental revolving account, which is used to offset the cost of operating our buildings.) — net effect = $0.
– 3 people who weren’t expected to retire have indicated that they plan to retire at the end of the year — the difference between the salary we pay them now and the salary we will likely need to pay their replacements leaves us with a net gain of $104,655.
– We had some shifts in special education placements: kids moving into or out of the district, kids moving to different types of placements, etc. The rough effect of that is $20K of additional expenses, but luckily we are able to offset that with money from a dividend that has been issued to us from the LABBB Collaborative (they issue these dividends every 3 or so years and this happens to be a year in which they are able to issue us a dividend. I can explain all of that to you, if you would like.) Net effect of all of this = $0.

The total of all of the budget adjustments as of last night = $104,655.

NEXT, the School Administration moved on to walking through the reductions necessary to move down to what the Superintendent would define as a Level Service budget (which is still well above the figure the School Department has been given to work with by the Warrant Committee — BUT the Superintendent’s Definition of what a Level Service budget would look like is an important milestone to mark along the road to reduction.)
So, to get down to that milestone (which with any luck, we might at some point be able to talk about getting back up to), the following reductions would need to be made:
* eliminate the proposal for full-day Kindergarten (savings of $359,734).
* eliminate the request for a Director of Guidance and Assessment (savings of $90,000).
* eliminate the requests for 2 new teaching positions to deal with anticipated large class sizes at the high school and middle school. (savings of $102,548)[Note: this reduction leaves as yet unspecified larger class sizes at the high school and 5th grade class sizes of 28 students/class at the Middle School.]
[A savings in medical insurance of $30,000 also results from the combination of the elimination of the Director of Guidance and Assessment and the HS and MS teachers.]

Now, with those reductions articulated, but many more reductions still to go, before getting to the WC’s bottom-line figure, the next milestone the School Budget was reduced to was the Warrant Committee’s definition of a Level Service Budget. Getting to that milestone requires the School Department to:
* eliminate the 2 existing, but unbudgeted (in FY08) classroom teachers that were hired at Wellington and Burbank back in September of this school year to address unexpected increases in enrollment. (Savings of $102,548 plus an additional savings of $20,000 in medical insurance costs associated with those 2 positions.)

Now — at this point in the game, only $809,485 worth of reductions have been made on the way down to the WC’s bottom-line figure. There are STILL $809,743 worth of reductions to be made, before the School Department reaches the target number given to them by the Warrant Committee. So, the School Administration moved on, detailing more of the reductions necessary to get to the WC’s ultimate milestone of a budget that only needs $38,205,771 worth of revenue to fund. Getting to the defined bottom line requires the School Department to:
* eliminate the Elementary School Instrumental Music Program ($80,708)
* reduce non-salary accounts by an additional $170,724. Doing that means:
– reducing the textbook account by an additional 46% (savings of $63,967)
– reducing all non-technology equipment except classroom furniture (some of which is so bad that we have no choice but to replace it) (saves us another $27,657)
– reducing the technology Equipment budget by 10% (savings of $27,600)
– reducing Buildings & Grounds non-salary by 10% (savings of $51,500)
* reducing the Athletics Program by 20% (savings of $99,440, once anticipated loss of athletic fees is factored in). This reduction would likely eliminate all freshman sports at the high school, in addition to some other teams, as yet unspecified.
* reduce Student Activities by 20% (savings of $29,160). Which clubs and activities would be cut remains unspecified at the moment.
* raising bus fees from the current $350/child to $420/child (savings of $16,000).
* use an additional $40,000 of the LABBB dividend to offset Special Education costs (since the dividend is only issued every few years, we use a portion of it each year to offset costs, rather than using it all at once and then not having it as a source of offset for a number of years in a row, while we wait for a potential additional dividend [the dividend results when students from non-member districts (members = Lexington, Arlington, Belmont, Burlington, and Bedford) are placed in LABBB Collaborative classrooms on a fee-basis. Again — it just so happens that this is a year in which a dividend will be issued to member districts, but then that won’t happen again for a number of years.)
* eliminate all elementary library aides (savings of $67,341).
AND finally, as a last resort:
* eliminate 5 additional classroom teachers (savings of $256,370, plus $50,000 of savings in health insurance costs associated with those 5 positions):
– one at Burbank (result = 2nd grade class sizes of 26 or 4th grade class sizes of 28 and 29.)
– one at Butler (result = 3rd grade class sizes of 26 and 27.)
– one at Wellington (result = 2nd grade class sizes of 24 and 25.)
– one at Winn Brook (result = 1st grade class sizes of 24 and 25.)
– one at the high school (as yet to be determined)

NOW — with all of those reductions and adjustments, the School Department is finally able to reach the bottom-line figure the Warrant Committee gave them to work with.

That entire list of reductions and adjustments will now be presented to the Warrant Committee (tonight 7:30PM, CMS Community Room), alongside Tom Younger’s list of reductions and adjustments necessary on the Town side — and the Warrant Committee (and others) will have a much better sense of what the scenario looks like if we are not able to close the gap between requested expenses and available revenues.

With all of that info in hand, they can then move forward in the process of determining and considering the various options available for balancing the FY09 budget! [Including whether or not it makes sense to consider going to the voters for an operating override.]

By the way — it should be expected that through the natural process of examining and refining initial budget assumptions, figures on both the revenue and expense sides will undergo some adjustments, as will the definition of the size of the budget gap to be closed.

At the conclusion of tonight’s Warrant Committee meeting, we should have a better sense of the most up-to-date revenue and expense figures, and hence, a more clearly defined budget gap, as well as a better sense of what the Warrant Committee sees as viable options for balancing the budget.

This whole conversation will then move to the Board of Selectmen’s table (which will be located at CMS, not Town Hall) on Saturday morning. At that time, the School Department will come before the Board of Selectmen, along with some of the members of the Education Sub-Committee of the Warrant Committee for the School Department’s annual Budget Hearing (all other Town Departments [except Human Resources, which will have a hearing prior to the schools on Sat] have already had their budget hearings on previous Saturday mornings.)

After the budget hearing portion of the meeting, the Selectmen will move into a discussion of the latest revenue and expense picture. And, ultimately, they are expected to take an official vote on whether or not to put a Roads Stabilization Fund override on the April ballot. That vote had been deferred until this time, at the request of Paul Solomon and Dan LeClerc, so that they could have a better sense of where things stood with regard to the state of the FY09 Operating Budget. In order for the roads override to be on the April ballot, a vote must be taken by March 3rd. The selectmen will need to weigh whether or not it makes sense to put that override on in April, given the larger context, which includes questions about whether an override may be necessary in order to balance the FY09 operating budget.

It should be an interesting meeting and anyone having an opinion about what they think the selectmen (who are, afterall there to represent all of us) should do, should express that opinion to the selectmen in the form of a letter, a phone call, or attendance (and perhaps comments) at Saturday’s meeting.

While all of that is incredibly long — I hope it serves to clarify things.