Superintendent recommends $38.1 million school budget

By Chris Maza

LONGMEADOW – Superintendent of Schools M. Martin O’Shea has recommended a school budget of $38.1 million for fiscal year 2021 (FY21).

O’Shea made the recommendation during a presentation to the School Committee at its Jan. 22 meeting. The superintendent called it “the first of a handful of stages in the process of developing the FY21 budget.” A public hearing will take place on Feb. 4 and a possible vote by the School Committee at its Feb. 11 meeting.

The proposal calls for an increase of $706,073 over the FY20 budget of $37.4 million.

Among the major factors considered in formulating the recommendation, according to O’Shea, were the town’s position with relation to the Proposition 2 ½ tax ceiling as well as the impact the state’s new education bill could have on Chapter 70 funding. That bill, known as the Student Opportunity Act, is expected to offer additional reimbursements through an updated formula, but O’Shea indicated that Gov. Charlie Baker’s recent budget proposal offered a lower number than expected and the bill “doesn’t necessarily represent a windfall that it might to some other communities.” The law also requires the development and School Committee approval of a spending plan outlining how funds would be utilized to close achievement gaps by April 1.

The district faces projected expenditure increases totaling $1.4 million. Contractual obligations equalling $902,979 represent the majority of that hike. Additional expenditures include one full-time equivalent (FTE) elementary school teacher, a 0.5 FTE library position, a special education teacher and assistant, additional seventh grade staffing at Williams Middle School and an increase in preschool staffing.

Offsetting some of those additional costs are reductions in the amount of $723,003. Attrition accounts for an estimated $256,181 of the total reductions and the plan also includes the elimination of one FTE high school specialist teacher, one FTE Williams Middle School teacher and one FTE kindergarten assistant.

The FY21 proposal would require $2.1 million in special revenues, a decrease of $168,065, and just over $36 million in General Fund revenue. The increase from the General Fund would be approximately 2.5 percent over FY20. Committee member Kevin Shea expressed concern regarding that figure, noting the Select Board had set a goal of only raising the tax rate by 1.75 percent.

“The challenge here is that the revenue picture on the town’s side is not settled; they only just heard today what the local aid projections might be just based on the governor’s budget,” O’Shea answered. “They’re already reporting to us that the local aid numbers came in lower than what they projected. So, we think that this is a reasonable, responsible number that we hope will be manageable, but they are in many ways in the same place we are – trying to identify what their revenue picture looks like and what their cost picture looks like.”