Student surge affects multiple departments
Three of Hopkinton Public School departments — Special Education, Buildings and Grounds, and Technology — had the chance to present their individual budgets for FY21 to the School Committee on Nov. 21.
The school budget has been heavily discussed at a number of School Committee meetings over the past few months, with the rapid increase in enrollment causing a strain on district resources.
Although the original budget message from the town was to keep increases to 5.5 percent, the school district is looking at a 5.1 percent increase in non-negotiable contractual obligations for next year alone.
“There is no wiggle room with these,” said superintendent Dr. Carol Cavanaugh. “And this is before we add a single general education teacher due to any of the enrollment growth.”
The three departments presented their needs, which included additional staff to keep pace with the increased enrollment.
Director of student services Dr. Karen Zaleski presented the needs of the Special Education Department for FY21. The department requested $11,923,923, which is an increase over FY20 of $908,755, or 8.3 percent. The increase is based on contractual salary increases as well as a request for additional staff due to the increase in enrollment, including additional intensive and general paraprofessionals, a half-time psychologist at Marathon Elementary School, additional secretarial support, and a new pre-K teacher for a new pre-K classroom.
“We have a significant anticipated enrollment of early intervention students next year,” Zaleski said. Students who quality for early intervention services can enroll in pre-K at the age of 3. The number of teachers and paraprofessionals is based on enrollment of early intervention students.
“Enrollment growth has hit preschool as well,” commented Marathon principal Lauren Dubeau, speaking on the needed pre-K teacher for FY21. “Adding an additional preschool class will allow us to be able to provide additional needed supports.”
Increased enrollment also equates to an increase in special education transportation costs, said Zaleski, including transportation to out-of-district placements, and transportation for homeless and foster care students.
The special education department makes up more than 12 percent of the student population at Hopkinton Public Schools.
“That’s important to keep in mind when we are looking at such large numbers,” commented School Committee member Meg Tyler. “I am amazed you were able to increase the budget so little.”
Director of technology Ashoke Ghosh presented the FY21 budget for the Technology Department for the district, asking for an 8.5 percent increase year over year. Ghosh said that the budget supports aligning the K-12 curriculum with the Massachusetts state standards, data privacy, support maintenance of hardware and software systems, and instructional software. The driving force behind the proposed budget increase is a new website/data position ($60,000) to maintain the new website and to support the data across the district. This is currently a stipend position of 3-5 hours per week.
“Parents, students and teachers need access to information,” said School Committee member Amanda Fargiano, voicing her support for the new position. “While it seems fluffy to some … it frees up time for our administrators who it falls on now.”
But not all agreed that the new position was a necessity in a challenging budget year.
“We are in a place where we have many, many needs,” commented School Committee chair Meena Bharath, asking Ghosh to consider looking into recruiting volunteers in combination with the current stipend position.
The final presentation from the meeting was by the director of buildings and grounds, Timothy Persson. Persson presented a preliminary increase for FY21 of $464,000, or 14 percent. A large driver of the increase is a request for salary increases from the new contract for custodians and maintenance, and for three additional night custodians throughout the district.
“Our staff does a really good job cleaning the buildings and they work really hard,” said Persson, who explained that the Hopkinton maintenance staff cleans an average of 10,000-20,000 square feet more per night then facilities guidelines dictate for typical school buildings.
Persson told the committee that he originally proposed six additional custodians to bring the district within the guidelines but reduced it to three after the initial round of budget presentations.
The Buildings and Grounds budget also included $182,000 for maintenance items such as a preventative maintenance program for HVAC units ($81,000) and for water testing for the district ($10,000).
“We know if you don’t do the maintenance it can be very costly in the future,” commented Fargiano.
Other departments will be presenting their budgets at a future School Committee meeting.