School Committee weighing layoffs, other cuts

In brief: The Belmont School Committee met Tuesday evening to discuss proposed cuts of between $800,000 and $1.6 million to the FY 2009 budget. The Committee worked out various scenarios, but anticipated elimination of full time instructors at the Butler (2nd grade) and Wellington (3rd grade) elementary schools, as well as proposed new teaching positions at BHS and the Middle School. Class sizes are expected to increase to over 28 students/class in the incoming 5th grade, as well as 26 in the butler (3rd) and Burbank (2nd) schools. Proposals for a new Director of Guidance & Assessment at BHS and for all day kindergarten would also be shelved. You can view and print Superintendent Peter Holland’s proposals for possible reductions to the FY09 budget by clicking on the thumbnail images below.

Adjustments for Reductions in FY09 Budget pg. 1

Adjustments for Reductions in FY09 Budget pg. 2

Adjustments for Reductions in FY09 Budget pg. 3

What can I do? First: take five minutes and write an e-mail to the Belmont Board of Selectmen ( Express your desire for an operational override to allow the Town to close the budget gap and maintain the excellence of its schools. Belmont hasn’t passed an override in more than six years and structural gaps in its budget will lead to annual crunches like this without an override.

There are two important meetings in the next week where parents can come to get informed about the proposed funding cuts to the Belmont public schools and also voice support for the schools to the town’s elected officials. The first is the Warrant Committee meeting this evening (Wed) in the community room at the Chenery Middle School at 7:30PM. The Warrant Committee is an appointed board that oversees the town’s finances and makes recommendations to the Board of Selectmen and Town Meeting.

The second important meeting is in the same location on Saturday morning, March 1, starting at 9:00am. At that meeting, the School Committee, Warrant Committee and Board of Selectmen will meet to discuss funding for the schools, as well as competing proposals, such as an operational override to fund road repair. Parents should absolutely come and voice their support of the schools before the Selectmen.

Belmont School Committee meeting — February

Details: I just got back from this evening’s School Committee meeting which was a somber affair. As B2 noted earlier, Belmont is looking at a number of options to offset an estimated $3m budget shortfall for FY09, including deep cuts to both the town and school budgets. That figure has tentatively been narrowed to around $1.4m by considering possible contributions from the Town’s free cash fund and assorted monies plucked from other line items in the town budget (as reported by the BCH). That narrows the cuts for the School Dept. to around $809,000 — a number that’s based on the size of the gap and the share of overall revenue that the schools get (estimated at around 56%).

The Warrant Committee has asked the School Department to come up with some figures to show what $800,000 in cuts will look like, before they decide whether the town needs an operational (Prop. 2 1/2) override to make up the difference, or whether a roads override is instead necessary — or neither. And that’s what tonight’s meeting was about: running the numbers on what cuts of various sizes might look like on the ground.

Needless to say, the various scenarios aren’t pretty, including the possibility of the loss of up to 8.5 full time instructor positions, district wide, and steep increases in levies for everything from sports (possibly $400 to $500 per kid) and transportation (up to $420/kid or $840/family for bus transportation).

The various options that Superintendent Holland details in his adjustments are confusing, but here’s what’s before the Warrant Committee and the Selectmen, should they opt not to vote to put an operating override before the town (or should the town reject that override):

  • Eliminate at least five full time instructors, with likely cuts to staff at the Burbank (2nd or 4th grade), Butler (3rd grade), Wellington (2nd grade), Winn Brook (1st grade) and the High School. (savings $256,370)

Other casualties:

  • The Music Elementary Instrumental Program (savings: $80,708)
  • Non-salary accounts sharply (i.e no money for text books, technology, and buildings and grounds–savings $99,440)
  • Reduce athletic program funding by 20% and increase levies on parents of students who wish to participate (savings:$29,160)
  • Increase levies on student transportation to $420 per child, or $840 per family (savings: $16,000)
  • Eliminate library aides in elementary schools (savings: $67,341)

And, as School Committee member Ann Rittenburg points out, these cuts assume that the WC will allocate some $800,000 in free cash to help fill the budget gap — a commitment they have not firmly made. Should they opt not to do an override and not to allocate free cash to fill the budget gap in the schools, the picture gets even darker.

Superintendent Holland’s handout details other options to reduce the School Dept. budget modestly, but that would still require the town to find a way to come up with a way to fund the mandatory cost increases, such as salary, SPED, utilities and so on.

Among those adjustments are moves to trim around $105,000 from the existing recommended FY09 budget. Savings come from attrition — teacher retirements that add up to 2.7 full time instructors who would not be replaced. Increases in electricity rates could be offset by money from the School Dept.’s revolving account. SPED increases are offset with money from the LABBB surplus. (Don’t ask me what the heck that is.)

Shelving a plan for town-funded all day kindergarten, and plans for an additional teaching positions at the High School and Middle School to keep class sizes in line takes another  $470,000 out of the proposed budget. No surprises here, and Superintendent Holland said that he plans on offering a FDK program that taps State grants to pay for most of the costs, with parent fees making up the difference. (More on this later.) In the end, Mr. Holland proposed an increase of 7.5% for FY 09, this option leaves us with an increase of 5.7%, or $2,098,037 over the FY08 budget, most of which is directed towards salary increases, fixed costs and mandated spending on SPED and other programs.