Amid uncertainty, School Committee approves $54M budget

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At its meeting Tuesday night, the School Committee unanimously supported a Fiscal Year 2022 budget of $54,153,911, an increase of a little less than 6 percent from the current budget of $51,206,402.

That figure includes a requested increase of $2,145,327 for salaries, which represents a 5.2 percent increase, and $802,182 for expenses, or a 1.6 percent increase. Of the 5.2 percent salary increase, 2.9 is allocated for contract increases and 2.3 for new staff positions.

The budget translates to $15,086.49 per student, more than $2,000 less than the state average of $17,149,000, superintendent Carol Cavanaugh said when reviewing the budget with the committee.

The budget features a number of unknowns, including state aid and potential federal aid to schools as proposed by new president Joe Biden, committee members said.

“We’re looking to vote the budget,” committee member Nancy Cavanaugh said, “before the revenue picture” is clear.

“We can only vote what we need” based on current circumstances, committee chair Amanda Fargiano said.

Town officials could request a cut to the budget, Fargiano said, but “I’m not comfortable asking for additional cuts.” She said the committee may have to meet again to discuss a request for reductions.

Another unknown, Fargiano said, is the “challenge the fall will bring,” with some students potentially having fallen behind academically while others may have made significant advances.

“I support this budget and can’t support any cuts,” Nancy Cavanaugh said. She said she could not advocate any reductions “for the services we’re providing.”

“The ask is modest for all that’s being accomplished,” she said.

“Our faculty is working so hard, and taking away from that [budget] would be putting a large burden on people who have been through a lot,” she added.

Committee members also unanimously supported placing an article on the spring Town Meeting warrant requesting that $500,000 be made available to the schools from the Legacy Farms host community agreement.

The agreement was created between the town and Legacy Farms developers to offset financial challenges brought on by the added enrollment from the development’s residents.

The superintendent advocated for the article, saying that enrollment projections are challenging to determine in a post-pandemic school year.

The $500,000 figure would cover the cost of seven teachers at about $70,000 each. These teachers could be needed if 100 additional students, not covered under current projections, enrolled in the fall.

Placing this on the warrant does not guarantee the money will be spent, Cavanaugh said. But approval places the money under the committee’s control should it be needed.

School Committee members would have to vote on any potential future use of this money.

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