LYNNFIELD — Superintendent Kristen Vogel unveiled the School Department’s recommended $28,515,911 operating budget for fiscal year 2023 during the School Committee’s March 8 meeting.

The proposed spending plan represents a 3.5 percent increase over FY22’s $27,551,605 operating budget. The School Department has also requested a $250,000 capital budget for technology expenses and curriculum materials.

“We are committed to providing the families of Lynnfield with an educational experience that provides opportunities for our students to develop as successful learners and kind human beings,” said Vogel. “During the past two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has created and put a spotlight on both academic and social-emotional challenges for our students. As a school district, we need to be prepared to continue to deploy additional services and supports for our students both academically and social-emotionally.”

Vogel noted that there are no new positions in the FY23 school budget.

“Our priorities as we created this budget were maintaining our desired class sizes, technology, electives, specials, Advanced Placement classes, extracurricular activities and ensured alignment with our district strategy,” said Vogel. “We are confident that the budget supports and provides a high quality education that the Lynnfield Public Schools provides for all of its students.”

Student Services Director Roberta Keane said special education out-of-district tuition and transportation costs will be increasing significantly in FY23. She said the School Department has budgeted $1,698,084 for special education out-of-district tuition, which represents a 60 percent increase over the $1,059,808 allocated in FY22. The School Department has budgeted $400,000 for special education out-of-district transportation.

Keane said the number of students who have been placed outside of the school system has “stayed fairly consistent over the past five years.”

“However, this year and next year, the level of need requires more intensive placements,” said Keane. “The substantial increase in tuition and transportation costs is a result of the complexity of the students as well as an increase in the number of students who need a high level of support.”

Keane said 7.4 percent of Lynnfield students who are on IEPs are placed outside of the district. She said a number of North Shore communities are “seeing an increase in out-of-district placements across the board.”

The student services’ director said the School Department will be expanding its language-based programs to support “the needs of as many students as possible.”

“We value having students be in their own community with their peers,” said Keane. “We are expanding our programming to offer the full continuum of placements for our students with language-based needs. This will ensure our students with language-based disabilities will have their language needs addressed while maintaining access to local peers and activities.”

School Committee Chairman Rich Sjoberg was pleased that Keane and the Student Services Department are dilligently working to expand the district’s language-based programs for special education students.

“Everything Roberta is doing to be more inclusive for our students who stay in-district so they can be part of the school community is admirable,” said Sjoberg.

School Committee member Jamie Hayman, who serves on the Budget Subcommittee with Sjoberg, recalled that the state budget includes the Special Education Circuit Breaker reimbursement program. According to Massachusetts Municipal Association Executive Director Geoff Beckwith, the state program “provides a measure of support for services provided to high-cost special education students.”

While the State Legislature determines the Circuit Breaker reimbursement rate, municipal officials from around the state have repeatedly expressed frustration with lawmakers for not always fully funding the program.

“We have done a really good job historically of keeping kids in the district,” said Hayman. “We are always going to do what is best for our students, but the system of how we fund special education is fundamentally broken. We have a finite amount of money and shifting $600,000 from the operating budget into special education makes things challenging.”

Hayman compared the rising special education costs situation to increasing gas prices.

“If people are spending more on gas, they are spending less on other things,” said Hayman. “I appreciate that we are looking at these language-based programs to try and bring students back into the district.”

Hayman asked if the special education cost increases are related to COVID.

“Coming out of the pandemic, we have seen an impact to a lot of students across the board,” said Keane. “Our students who were vulnerable to begin with had the most significant impact.”

Vogel noted there will be no layoffs due to the district’s budget challenges, but she said resources will be reallocated.

School Finance Director Tom Geary recalled that the district received Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds from the federal government, totaling $678,618. He said the district received $49,812 in ESSER 1 funds, $200,552 in ESSER 2 funds and $428,254 in ESSER 3 funds.

“We can spend them on anything that can be linked to the pandemic,” said Geary. “We really tried to be thoughtful with these one-time funds that are available so we wouldn’t incur reoccurring costs with any of them. We have spent the first portion of it, and we will be spending the majority of the second portion by the end of this fiscal year. We have until 2024 to spend the third chunk, which is the biggest. We are trying to be thoughtful with filling gaps coming out of the pandemic.”

Geary said the School Department has spent ESSER funds on nursing salaries, technology, social-emotional programs, tutoring, professional development, cleaning and air purification systems.

“It really runs the gamut,” said Geary.

Hayman noted that the ESSER funds cannot be used for special education tuition and transportation because they can only be used for one-time expenses.

Geary said the School Department’s proposed $250,000 capital budget will be used to purchase technology devices such as Chromebooks, laptops and Smart Flat Panels.

“We are also going to use some of our capital funds to upgrade our social studies curriculum,” said Geary.

In response to a question from Hayman, Vogel said the elementary schools’ are looking to update the social studies curriculum to make sure it’s aligned with the “Act to Promote and Enhance Civic Engagement” that Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law three years ago. The law requires public high schools and middle schools to offer a nonpartisan civics project to students.

“The elementary schools had begun writing a social studies curriculum before COVID,” said Vogel. “They had one, but it needed to be reviewed and updated. It was put on the side for the last two years, and this year they began that process again. The teachers have decided on a social studies curriculum that they will be using. That is what we will be using some of the capital money to do.”

School Committeeman Phil McQueen said the School Department’s proposed spending plan for FY23 seeks to “get students what they need.”

“There is no fluff here,” said McQueen. “I want to thank everybody for their hard and thoughtful work.”

Hayman asked Vogel if the proposed FY23 school budget will negatively impact the education students receive.

“This budget preserves desired class sizes and we are maintaining extracurricular activities, specials and athletics,” said Vogel. “I feel strongly and firmly believe that this budget maintains a high quality education in Lynnfield Public Schools.”

School Committee member Kate DePrizio thanked Vogel, Keane and Geary for working to develop a spending plan that “prioritizes excellent education.”

“Our students’ success and support matters to all of us,” said DePrizio.

School Committee Vice Chairwoman Stacy Dahlstedt said local officials will continue seeing “the trickle down effects of the pandemic” in future years.

“This budget is going to ensure our students receive the best educational opportunities,” said Dahlstedt. “With that being said, it’s going to be challenging with such an increase in special education costs. We need to ensure that all of our students are receiving the education that they need.”

Sjoberg agreed.

“Every decision Kristen made during this budget process was always students’ first,” said Sjoberg. “It made this process better because every tough decision that was made was always with the idea that students and education came first.”