School Committee Presents FY 20 Budget to Fin Com

The School Committee’s Recommended Budget was reviewed with the town’s Finance and Advisory Board on Wednesday, February 27th. The budget was presented by members of the School Committee’s Budget and Finance subcommittee Michael Hinchliffe and Cheryl Lachendro, Director of Finance and Operations Suzanne Sutherland and myself.

The School Committee adopted budget of $15,834,279 was a 4.9% increase over the budget for FY 19 (the budget year in which we are currently working) which sounds like a lot but there is a story behind the numbers.  Each year, we generally supply the town with three figures fairly early in the budget process but definitely before we present the School Committee’s Recommended Budget to the Finance and Advisory Board since we are the largest and last department to present to them. Interestingly when we built the budget and looked at salary and non salary lines, the overall budget went up by 3.1% which is a very respectable and fair number after we first built-in contractual raises and made a few reductions in some non salary lines to present a number that the town  was likely to be able to afford. This number also includes funding for all regular and special education programs that we deliver in our schools but did not account for a significant increase( +24%) in the cost of tuition and transportation for special education students who receive their education out side of the district at public and/or private special education facilities that have more extensive and costly resources that some students require according to their Individualized Education Plan (IEP). In the case of next year’s budget  for FY 20, the difference in cost is an additional $270 K which is why the budget request was 4.9% and not 3.1%. This is a very tricky and uncomfortable discussion to have because it is not the intention to pit regular education and special education against one another. We have a responsibility to educate every student regardless of cost as is necessary but the biggest obstacle is the high cost of the services and not the fact that the students need the services. There is an extensive and collaborative  process by which these decisions for outside placements are determined and , if and when, the decision is made to authorize a placement , a team of people has  signed off that the service is necessary in accordance with the law.

The good news is that the proposed FY 20 budget is a level services budget which maintains all of our current high quality programs and services for all students, maintains our high quality workforce, protects reasonable class sizes at all levels ,keeps up with required technology upgrades and maintains of our school buildings and grounds. While the budget does not include any additional positions, the budget would maintain what we have which we could make work for next year. The Finance and Advisory Board was very respectful of our request and has assured us that they understand the challenges that we face in particular with high cost of out of district special education services. This is not unique to Georgetown and my superintendent colleagues across the state are experiencing the same challenges as they find that their in-house programs are not sufficient to meet the needs of some students.  In fact, this is a major topic of conversation and debate in the legislature when it comes to revising an outdated funding formula to adequately fund education without so much falling back on the taxpayers of the communities across the Commonwealth. There are no easy answers on this front but there is a strong commitment and a greater understanding that schools and towns have to have greater relief from the state when it comes to supporting education.

UPDATE:  The School Committee and learned this week that the Finance and Advisory Board will be reducing our request by $79,265 due to funding other priorities and lack of available funds. We will be meeting with the School Committee Budget and Finance Subcommittee to discuss how we will make that reduction. We appreciate the consideration that the Finance and Advisory Committee gave to our budget request , and while disappointed,  are grateful for the increase in our budget for  FY 20. If you are interested in viewing the proposed budget, it can be found on the district’s website or by clicking this link https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?tab=rm#inbox/FMfcgxwBWKVXztcQktrsXDkJJNrWTBKm?projector=1&messagePartId=0.1.

If you have any questions about the school budget, please reach out to me at jacobsc@georgetown.k12.ma.us or Director of Finance and Operations Suzanne Sutherland at sutherlands@georgetown.k12.ma.us