WINCHESTER – The Superintendent of Schools, Dr Frank Hackett, presented several budget options at the school board public hearing last week. He called it “a tough budget year again,” with many unknowns due to COVID-19.
Although this is Hackett’s first budget at Winchester, he has stuck to budgets for the past two decades in various communities.
He mentioned the many budgetary factors such as staff contracts which include COLA (cost of living adjustment) and increments. He admitted that these are also two unknowns, as contract negotiations are ongoing. (Later, school board member Chris Nixon noted employee health insurance contracts are beyond the control of the committee and the superintendent since the general manager, or in this case the acting general manager, serves as the main negotiator in this regard.)
Hackett pointed out how last year’s budget was approved for $58 million. This year, the superintendent will produce a budget that includes an increase of at least 3.87% ($60 million), which he called the “rolling budget.” This budget would not add anything new and would only roll over the entire FY22 budget. The increase comes, as mentioned above, from increments and COLAs for teachers and staff.
A second potential budget, called the sustaining effort budget, would cost the city $61.4 million and increase 5.7% from the current FY22 budget. It includes $700,000 for fees out-of-district schooling, ie. pay to send students out of the district (usually for students with special needs when the city doesn’t have the programs they need) and $100,000 for professional services.
It also includes additional staff for world language programs at Vinson-Owen School and McCall’s Middle School at around $120,000.
Hackett then mentioned an adjusted sustaining effort budget, similar to the sustaining effort budget, but with a slightly lower increase to 4.73% or $60.9 million. This includes much of the same needs as the sustaining effort budget but adjusted, so instead of paying $700,000 for out-of-district tuition, the city would pay $264,000 less. It also includes anticipated staff attrition and elementary enrollment adjustments that would reduce the budget by an additional $307,000.
The superintendent called this version of the budget “risk-reward” because it could affect FY24.
Finally, Hackett presented two more expensive budgets, priorities 1 and 2, which have two full-time equivalents (FTEs) for social-emotional learning at $159,000 in priorities 1 and 0.2 FTEs in math, English and high school technology for $13,000 each and three vice principals at Ambrose, Lincoln, and VO schools for $54,000 each in Priority 2.
These two budgets show a 6% increase for Priority 1 and a 6.34% increase for Priority 2 for a total budget of $61.6M and $61.8M, respectively.
The other main budgetary factor, besides teacher/staff contracts, concerns schooling. Thanks to COVID, registrations have dropped by 300 over the past two years. In October of last year, the number of registrations looked like this:
Vinson Owen – 395
Muraco – 346
Ambrose – 347
For FY23, Hackett asked what enrollment numbers it was reasonable to assume, given that some parents were withdrawing their children from the public school system and others were returning to it. Two years ago, pre-COVID, enrollment was at 4,617. Going forward, projections show these numbers continuing to decline to 4,271 for FY23 and as low as 4,161 for FY23. exercise 27.
These figures are highly dependent on the number of kindergartens. The superintendent and his team plugged in 300 for FY23 to FY27; however, if even 20 or 30 more students showed up, it would drastically change the number of elementary, middle and high school enrollments.
Kindergarten enrollment closes March 7 this year, so the school board and superintendent won’t know more exact numbers until they submit the FY23 budget to acting city manager Beth Rudolph and the finance committee. .
Hackett warned that the city “may see some migration returning,” when it comes to students returning to the Winchester public school system. However, Nixon pointed to another enrollment variable involving progression from eighth to ninth grade and the number of students who might leave Winchester for private, Catholic, or vocational schools.
Nixon mentioned that it fluctuates between 4 and 12% in any given year. As he predicted a four percent change for FY23, he warned his fellow board members to watch the numbers.
In the future, the superintendent hopes to receive funding from the American Rescue Plan Act. He also hopes to have a better understanding of how much Ch.
The next steps for the committee and the superintendent include presenting a final budget to the acting CEO who will then submit his budget to the finance committee. In May, it will go before the municipal assembly for approval.