We held a Committee of the Whole dedicated to budget planning for the 2020/2021 academic year on April 6th. In this meeting, we heard from the following departments:
Each department provided a narrative description of the critical activities, aggregated staffing, accomplishments, and essential initiatives for the upcoming year. If you missed my update on the plans for this year's budget and some overall commentary, you can find it here.
If you tuned into this meeting, you might have felt like it was a bit contentious. It was. The issues have little to do with the departments who presented. At the beginning of the budget process, we held a Committee of the Whole meeting to layout the process. At that time, the administration and City said that we do not build our budget to hit a number. Instead, the budget is built based on what the departments articulate they need. At that meeting, I was pretty excited about my motion passing to add this question to all budget narratives: "Identify 3-5 items, initiatives, personnel, or costs that, if prioritized during the budget process, would positively impact student achievement that are in addition to the requested budget presented. List a brief description and estimated cost for each. Think big or small. Nothing is off the table in this section." This question has been shortened to the phrase "Wish List." My goal was to be sure that we really are laying all of our needs on the table, and maybe even a few wants.
I was really disheartened to hear that we are, in fact building a budget based on a number on April 6th. The number is a 5% increase. It was also reported that the number should be 3% increase, and in light of the COVID-19 situation, it could be even more conservative. 3% means nothing new. Nothing really at all. 5% means maybe 1 or 2 new things. I've been carefully tracking all the items NOT in the budget at this point and will work to get that consolidated list out in a future update. My biggest goals for this budget season were to be MORE transparent about our process and our needs. I'm going to continue to work at this as best I can.
Also during the discussion, I inquired about when we would be having financial reviews of the Before/After School, Food Service, and Community Schools accounts. We agreed to do this during our Budget Goals Committee of the Whole. There was resistance to doing this, including that adequate information had been provided. Ultimately, we agreed that these reviews would occur by October 30th, 2020.
In addition to the same funding requests from last year, the department heads highlighted the following items on their respective ‘Wish Lists’.
Mr. Szykniej noted that there has been a lot of work to improve scheduling at the high school complex so that more students can participate in Fine Arts offerings like band/orchestra.
In addition to the items in his current budget he asked for a number of display cases so that student work could be showcased at all buildings.
I've talked about middle school health in a few different posts at this point. The curriculum is now approved, but to implement it, the Health Department needs an additional teacher at the middle school level. Without this teacher we likely will be unable to expand the health curriculum to include important sex education topics.
Ms. Perry also requested 1 adaptive physical education teacher. This request was made the year prior and not able to be added to the budget. Districts around us have added, or plan to add adaptive PE teachers to meet the needs of special education students.
Equipment for the new workout/yoga room including TVs and Spin Bikes
Library, Media, and Technology
This update was a meaty one! This department houses our school libraries, all technical equipment (Chromebooks), computer/technology classes, and overall technology administration for the district. It's a complicated 'wish list' so I'll try to hit a few highlights
Librarians at all schools. Right now, there are 2.5 librarians across seven schools. The librarians are spread thin but supported by paraprofessionals.
Cybersecurity training for our staff
Replacement of 1200 aging desktop computers ($1.4 million)
Additional staff to support technology
Chromebooks to increase our available equipment
Increased paraprofessional support at the elementary level
Two additional nurses to support the Andrews Middle School and Curtis-Tufts HIgh School
High school athletics does collect user fees. Football and Ice Hockey pay $200. All other sports pay $175 per season. There is a family cap of $500. Students receiving free and reduced lunch do not pay user fees.
Since joining the re-invigorated Greater Boston League, we've added middle school sports to our offering.
No other changes this year, but a note that coaching stipends may need to be revisited in the near future.
Full Schedule of Budget Meetings
Beginning on February 24th, the School Committee will hold budget meetings with every department. The department heads will present a narrative of their department along with their budget requests for the upcoming year. I've also included the recording links in the full list below Here is the schedule:
Original Schedule of Meetings
MONDAY, APRIL 20TH, 2020 – Middle Schools, High School, Vocational Technical Education, and Student Activities/Programs; School Committee, Finance/Business, Districtwide Expenses, and Districtwide
MONDAY, MAY 4TH, 2020 – English Learners and Special Education
MONDAY, MAY 18TH, 2020 – Transportation, Security and Building, Grounds and Custodial
MONDAY, JUNE 1ST, 2020 – Reserved if an additional meeting is needed
MONDAY, JUNE 15TH, 2020 – Budget Hearing Presentation at last School Committee Meeting of the school year.
Your call to action: If you are finding yourself running out of binge-worthy television, might I suggest tuning in to one of our past meetings? To say the current state of the world is unprecedented is an understatement. How our budgets will be impacted is unknown (at least to me) at this time. Watching these meetings may provide some helpful background as we move forward through these uncharted waters. I am not holding traditional office hours right now, but I'm here, and just a phone call away. Please reach out if you'd like to meet. Please also share this blog with friends and neighbors who want to be informed about our schools. Subscribing to the newsletter will ensure you receive these updates as I post them.