Published in the March 16, 2017 edition.
WAKEFIELD — The School Committee has rescheduled its public budget hearing to Tuesday, March 28, at 7 p.m., in the WCAT studio at Wakefield Memorial High. The hearing was originally supposed to be Tuesday night, but a nor’easter spoiled those plans.
All are invited to have their say on the nearly $38 million spending plan.
School administrators are asking for a 4.84 percent increase in its budget for Fiscal Year 2018, which begins July 1. School Superintendent Dr. Kim Smith unveiled her $37,928,265 recommended budget at the Feb. 28 School Committee meeting.
The new budget includes the first step in the reduction and possible eventual elimination of user fees. By adding $90,000 to next year’s budget, user fees paid by families would be reduced 20-25 percent. Similar infusions in the next three years (pending reevaluation along the way) could mean the elimination of the fees by the 2021-2022 school year.
Dr. Smith outlined additions and subtractions in her recommended budget, beginning with the additions.
The first addition to the budget was $86,000 to implement Phase III of the District Technology Plan, which Smith said will achieve a long-term, sustainable plan for teacher and student device replacement.
The addition of $59,880 for a Grade 5 teacher at the Galvin Middle School, Smith said, would “eliminate split or odd-number teacher teams to maximize the learning environment for students.”
The addition of a math teacher at Wakefield Memorial High School at a cost of $59,880, Smith said, is needed to address an enrollment bubble that has reached the high school. With the enrollment increases, class sizes were going to range from 27 to 29, which she maintained would not facilitate the way math is currently taught. Smith aid that this new position was needed because students have to pass the math MCAS and need to pass four years of high school math in order to graduate.
The next budget addition Smith discussed was $104,940 for a half-time Behavior Coach and a full-time, Board Certified Behavior Analyst. These positions are needed, Smith maintained, to “address burgeoning social, emotional, and behavioral issues, especially in early grades.” While this appears to be a large increase, Smith noted, it is mostly offset by a reduction in the contractual services line item that previously supported these functions.
Smith also proposed adding $86,084 for a World Language Curriculum Coordinator to “guide Wakefield Public Schools to a well-articulated K-12 World Language curriculum and programming for all students.” This line item is tied to the curriculum review cycle.
Another $23,400 will be added to the professional development line item, Smith said, “to support job-embedded professional learning, MassCue instructional technology conferences and teacher development with new curriculum.”
Smith recommended another $60,000 to be used for a full-time district-wide position in moderate special needs, a Reading/Math Specialist or Adjustment Counselor/Psychologist, as needed.
Smith next talked about the addition of $90,000 to the budget aimed at reducing the activity fees paid by families of students for athletics, performing arts and fee-based clubs (science, art, math) by an estimated 20-25percent. The funds include $45,000 in savings in salaries due to teacher retirements and reorganizing programs. The other $45,000 will come from the town, Smith said. The plan is to assess the plan each year to determine further reductions or elimination of user fees over a 4-5 year period.
The total amount of new additions to the budget comes to $570,184.
Smith then moved on to “budget offsets,” which she described as reductions in the budget or increased revenues. For any area of budget increase, Smith said, she tried to find ways in the budget to add revenue or reorganize to save money.
The first offset listed was an $8,918 reduction in the Instructional Technology line item. This reduction was made possible, Smith said, by the aforementioned implementation of Phase III of the District Technology Plan.
Smith said that School Department Business Manager Michael Pfifferling had restructured the contract between Lesley University and the School Department for a $10,000 increase in the payment to the School Department from Lesley.
Another $66,000 will be saved, Smith said, by reorganizing the specialists model at the Galvin Middle School while increasing the science, technology and engineering courses for grades 6-8 and adding a World Language semester in Grade 5.
The next budget decrease is one that Smith referred to earlier, reducing contracted services by $97,000 to hire the previously mentioned Behavior Coach and Board Certified Behavior Analyst, “providing real-time, ongoing support for students, teachers, and families.”
Smith also talked about $36,374 in savings from the salary difference between retiring teachers and their replacements.
The superintendent said that another $28,081 could be saved by reorganize the WMHS World Language Department while continuing to provide all current language options: Spanish, French, Italian and Latin.
Smith said that based on the numbers, the homeless transportation line item could be reduced by $20,000.
Similarly, because there are currently no students in the recovery high school program, Smith recommended cutting $15,000 from that line item.
Based on needs, Smith said, she determined that one instructional support position could be cut, saving $19,378.
Smith turned to Pfifferling to discuss a $100,000 saving in out of district transportation. He said that by the School Department leasing two vans and providing its own transportation services for students going to nearby communities it could save $100,000.
The total amount of the budget offsets was $445,751.
Smith said that the FY 2018 budget reflects known increases in Special Education, including out of district tuition, home tutoring and transportation. Smith said that she did not anticipate having to tap the Special Education Stabilization fund for next year.
Smith also recommended a $10 increase in the bus fee and a 2.5 percent increase in tuition at the Doyle Early Childhood Center.
Smith noted an expected strong increase of $346,784 in the Chapter 70 funding from the state for a total of $6,191,361 in FY 2018 Chapter 70 funds.
Smith also provided a table breaking down the budget increases by category. The largest category shown was salaries, which rose 4.59 percent ($1,661,698).
The School Department budget will also be presented to the Board of Selectmen and the Finance Committee before going to the voters at the May 1 Annual Town Meeting.