School Budget, Per-Pupil Expenditures Discussed
The Bellingham School Committee met in two Saturday workshops in February, and continued in their two meetings in March, to discuss the school budget for the 2016-17 school year. (Fiscal year 2017 begins on July 1, 2016, and runs through June 30, 2017.)
School Superintendent Peter Marano outlined what drives the administration and School Committee during the budget process. First, they look to best meet the needs of all of the students. Second, they must meet the requirements of all state and federal mandates. Third, they look for the greatest efficiency and cost savings.
Marano said that the administrative team meets several times between August and March to discuss budget needs for district improvements and the requests for staff and support personnel or other budget items that arise during the course of the year.
The proposed district school budget of $24,130,197 was presented to the Finance Committee on March 21 for approval of the bottom line figure. After that date, items may be shifted within the budget, with final budget decisions being made at the School Committee meeting on April 14. The final budget figure is approved at the Annual Town Meeting in May.
Marano noted that they had done a comparison of the per-pupil expenditures for all 10 of the school districts in the Tri Valley League plus Blackstone Valley Technical High School (BVT) since many Bellingham students attend BVT and Bellingham is one of these 11 towns contributing to the funding for BVT. This number reflects the amount each school district spends per student within the district.
Bellingham ranked second from the bottom of that list last year and fourth from the bottom in 2014. However, this study shows that Bellingham ranked at the top of the list in the percentage of the budget spent on high-needs students, with 32% of last year’s budget set aside for staffing and programs for these students as opposed to the 18% spent by BVT.
High-needs students are defined as those students identified as Special Education, English as a second Language (ESL) or students from low-income households who qualify for free or reduced lunch.
According to Marano, the list of 11 schools that includes the Tri-Valley League and BVT puts Dover-Sherborn and BVT at the top for per-pupil expenditures by far. The remainder of the schools fall closely together (including Westwood, Hopkinton, Medfield, Medway, Millis and Holliston), followed at the end by Ashland, Bellingham and Norton.
Because of the 32% that Bellingham spends on the requirements for high-needs students, less of Bellingham’s per-pupil expenditure goes to the curriculum and needs of regular-education students. Marano said that these other schools spend more per student, but disproportionately less on high-needs requirements.
Special Education Director Rachel Lawrence explained that the district does not know what percentage the federal government will reimburse the district for the high costs of out-of-district special education tuitions (Circuit Breaker Grant) until long after the budget process is completed. The School Committee felt comfortable enough with the recent Circuit Breaker reimbursements to budget an estimate of a 68% reimbursement for these tuitions. The school budget covers the remainder of these costs. Lawrence noted that there are other special education grants that cover a portion of the costs for in-district staff and services, including specialists, therapists, ABA Techs and Instructional Learning Assistants.
Capital Improvement RequestsMaintenance Director Roger Oakley described the Capital Improvement requests that will also be voted on at Town Meeting. New sound systems will be installed both in the high school auditorium and at the football field. The current sound system in the auditorium was never installed properly. Oakley has been working with Music Director Marie Forte, Athletic Director Dennis Baker, and Technology Director Michael Garofano to go over the needs to replace the sound system using the existing control stations and wiring.
The stadium audio is an older system and is garbled, not reaching the visitors’ stands. The controls for the sound system will be accessed only by school personnel. Outside users who rent the stadium will be able to access the microphone and have plug-in capability for music devices, but will not have access to the entire sound system.