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Jenny's Recap of Budget Meeting #1- February 3rd

Updated: Feb 19


Our budget season kicked off with a Committee of the Whole on February 3rd, 2020.


Overview

You’ve probably heard me say this before, but there are four responsibilities of the School Committee:

  1. Promote student achievement

  2. Set district wide policy

  3. Evaluate the superintendent

  4. Approve the school budget

Here in Medford, as in all public school districts, the process starts within the school administration. At the meeting we talked extensively about the process to build the budget. We asked questions like: Are we working toward a number provided by somebody? If so, who provides it and how does it work? Does the budget get built from the ground up? Does it reflect needs or wants or both?


Our administrators explained that the process begins with our department heads who work to outline the needs of their respective departments for the upcoming year. They also highlighted that these conversations are not constrained to a number. Our budget process within the schools does not begin with the end in mind so to speak. No number is passed from city hall or elsewhere. We start where we should. At the beginning. By asking our leads to outline what is needed for the coming year. Phew.


We also talked about the historical point of view. Our budget increases by 2%-4% annually. The lion’s share of this increase is consumed by salary increases and other contractual obligations, e.g., increases in the cost of electricity. So we started with the fact that we build the budget we need. This is where we start to distinguish between what we need and what we want. I think that surely, our departments WANT more than a tiny fraction more than last year. But our educators and administrators, like their peers all over the country, also know that there are realities to school funding. There is never enough. So while we build the budget we need, the line between need and want is certainly a fuzzy one at best. And this fuzzy line, what constitutes a want rather than a need, will certainly always be in the eye of the beholder. Parents may see this one way. Teachers another. Principals another. Administrators yet another.


Our plans for this year

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. Here is the schedule:

  • MONDAY, FEBRUARY 24, 2020 – Guidance, English Language Arts, Social Studies, Mathematics, Science and World Languages

  • MONDAY, MARCH 9, 2020 – Elementary Schools

  • MONDAY, MARCH 23, 2020 – Art, Physical Education, Library/Media, Health Services, and Athletics

  • MONDAY, APRIL 6, 2020 – Middle Schools, High School, Vocational Technical Education, and Student Activities/Programs

  • MONDAY, APRIL 13, 2020 – English Learners and Special Education

  • MONDAY, MAY 4, 2020 – School Committee, Finance/Business, Districtwide Expenses, and Districtwide

  • MONDAY, MAY 18, 2020 – Transportation, Security and Building, Grounds and Custodial

  • MONDAY, JUNE 1, 2020 – Reserved if an additional meeting is needed

  • MONDAY, JUNE 15, 2020 – Budget Hearing Presentation at last School Committee Meeting of the school year.


We agreed on a few updates and enhancements to the budget narratives to add clarity to the discussion. They include:

  • Identification of any field trips budgeted by the departments

  • Schedule of technology age for our computer equipment (Library/Media scheduled for 3/23)

  • Where applicable, staffing comparison charts across buildings. (e.g., physical education instructors)

Perhaps the change I’m most excited about is that all departments will share the answer to this question in their 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.”


I want to point out that we are asking this question without any additional guidelines because guidelines restrict thinking and creativity, especially when it comes to money. I think this is a meaningful way to start to clarify that fuzzy line between need and want.


Other upcoming meetings

In addition to the above schedule look for meetings to be scheduled to:

  • Revise and revisit the district’s capital plan

  • Review our revolving accounts including Before/After School, Food Service, and others

A revolving fund separately accounts for specific revenues and earmarks them for expenditure by a board or officer without appropriation for particular purposes to support the activity, program or service that generated the revenues. If you love budgets, here is some detail about the kinds of things that fall into a revolving account under Mass General Law.


Will this be a good budget?

Isn’t this the million dollar question? We’ve talked a LOT about the Student Opportunity Act in the last year. It is a historic change in the school funding equation. The Governor released his budget, which revealed how the passage of the act will translate into cold hard cash. From the Department of Education Website:


“The Act establishes new, higher foundation budget rates in five areas: benefits and fixed charges, guidance and psychological services, special education out of district tuition, English learners, and low income students, all to be phased in over a seven-year period. For the first four categories, the rates have been increased by 1/7 of the gap between the FY20 rates and the final target rates. Because of the significant increase in foundation budgets associated with low income enrollment in FY21 (discussed below), and the directive in Section 30 of the Act to implement foundation and increment amounts in "an equitable and consistent manner", the low income increment rate increases are set at 4/100 of the gap. The number of tiers for the low income increment rates is increased from ten to twelve; districts with higher concentrations of low income students benefit from higher rates.


In addition to these targeted rate increases, all foundation budget categories have been adjusted upward to account for inflation. A new employee benefits inflation rate is applied to the employee benefits and fixed charges category. This is based on the enrollment-weighted, three-year average premium increase for all Group Insurance Commission plans; for FY21 the increase is 2.34%. An inflation increase of 1.99% has been applied to all other foundation budget rates, based on the U.S. Department of Commerce's state and local government price deflator.


The Act also adds a new minimum aid adjustment to the formula. This provides "hold harmless" aid to 25 districts that otherwise would have lost aid due to the new foundation budget factors.”


Where does Medford fall? The City of Medford is slated to receive the minimum increase in year 1 of $30 per student. This handy map shows you how cities and towns all over the Commonwealth have fared. Unfortunately, of the five areas noted above, the changes to meet the needs of low income students are only currently increased by 4/100th of the total to be reached over 7 years, while the other measures are increased by 1/7th. This means that Medford will not see much of an increase this year, if the Governor’s budget stands. But wait. There’s more. You’ll also recall that our charter school spend takes approximately $6 million from our school budget in the current fiscal year. Our projected net spend on charter schools for the upcoming school year (although not final) is $6,920,546. This is a $540,799 increase over what we are spending in the 2019/2020 school year. This increase far exceeds the additional state aid from the SOA of $30/student, or $138,660. If the Governor’s budget stands, it means that the lion’s share of any increase in funding to Medford Public Schools will come from city funding sources, and not from state aid. Given that we are at the very first step in the process, there could well be changes before all is said and done. I am hoping this is the case.


There’s a reason we talk about budgets as a process. They definitely are! Where you start and where you land can be very different. But as we start, a clear understanding of these many moving parts is what will help us make fiscally, ethically, and educationally responsible decisions. Funding formula interpretation combined with staff, administrative, and community input will help us build the best budget we can for our district. By communicating these elements and timelines, I hope our process is transparent and allows for collaboration from all stakeholders. I hope to hear from you at one of the many meetings listed here or at one of my posted office hours. Thank you for investing in the Medford Public Schools.


Your call to action: Join me at my next office hours at Salvatores on 2/23 at 7 pm. I welcome your input in general, and as we get ready for our first budget hearings on 2/24. The 2/24 budget hearings include the following departments which will present their budget requests for the next school year: Guidance, English Language Arts, Social Studies, Mathematics, and World Language. 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.

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© 2019 by  Committee to Elect Jenny Graham