School Committee Approves 3.5% Budget Increase for FY23 ~ Fincom Review on Thursday

January 26, 2022

The $43,157,090 proposed education budget for fiscal year 2023 will be in the Finance Committee spotlight Thursday starting at 7 p.m.

The budget sailed to unanimous School Committee approval at a virtual meeting Tuesday.

Several weeks ago the Finance Committee voted a 3.25 percent growth guideline for the school budget, a quarter-point less than the yardstick of recent years. The budget approved Tuesday reflects a 3.5 percent increase, but Conrad assured the School Committee that “we have had some internal conversations and we believe this is going to work for both groups.”

Conrad presented budget highlights at a statutory public hearing on Zoom Tuesday, but there were no public questions or comments. School Committee members individually endorsed the budget. Brad Morrison had the only specific comment; he applauded a proposed 10 percent increase in teacher professional development.

The superintendent repeated the point he emphasized at the initial budget presentation in December: the plan features “minimal additions” and “seeks opportunities for efficiencies.”

The gross increase in spending would be $1,527,051 if the budget is approved intact by Annual Town Meeting. Salaries, reflecting a 3.6 percent increase, comprise $37,521,683 of the total. Conrad noted that there are three fewer classes in the elementary grades, dictated by enrollment.

Operating expenses, including information technology services, are increasing “like everywhere,” Conrad said, and the proposed budget shows a 2.9 percent raise. Special-education transportation costs decline by about $180,000, as a result of increased state reimbursement.

Beyond Conrad’s “maintenance of effort” budget is a category he calls “additional needs,” comprising $79,481 in salaries and $71,552 non-salary.

Additional staff requests, Conrad said, are limited to mandated special-education positions and part-time staff introduced with a grant. Non-salary “additional needs” are a math curriculum change for fourth grade, review and piloting social-emotional learning component in the elementary school, cooperative gymnastics team with Wilmington High, “continued access to online curriculum and tools added during the pandemic,” and streamlining the Aspen registration system.

Separately, the schools are requesting a $200,000 reserve account for unexpected out-of-district tuition bills. The Finance Committee has supported this concept; the current year’s reserve is $450,000. The actual budget features about $3 million for out-of-district tuition, a net number after about $1.9 million from state funds.

The budget does not include the potential financial impact of continued Covid-19 precautions, “though we have done some estimates so we have a sense of what we might need,” Conrad said.

This contingency planning has a price tag of less than $300,000, covering a systemwide nurse and substitute nurses; custodial overtime; and purchase of personal protective equipment, ventilation equipment; and other items to ensure safety protocols. Conrad said if those expenditures are needed, it is hoped they will be covered by federal dollars.

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at [email protected], or 781-983-1763

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