School budget needs ‘entire redo’ due to pandemic

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The $52 million school budget approved by school and town officials just weeks ago has gone up in smoke, victim to an economic crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We will need an entire redo of the Hopkinton Public Schools Budget for FY21,” superintendent Dr. Carol Cavanaugh told members of the Hopkinton School Committee at their April 30 meeting held remotely via Zoom.

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To demonstrate the devastating impact of the economic downturn, Cavanaugh selected an image of an explosion as part of her slide presentation on the topic.

“Our entire budget for Fiscal Year ’21 sort of looks like this right now,” she said of the “dismal slide” with the explosion image.

The status of the FY21 budget is “now up in the air,” she said, but the assumption is that the budget will be reduced, based on material she and finance director Susan Rothermich presented.

All departments are subsequently revising their FY21 budget requests, Rothermich said.
The changes come as the school department received support from the select board for a FY21 budget of $52,309,719, an 8.9 percent increase over the FY20 budget of just over $48 million.

The increases were requested to accommodate the growing school population. Nearly all of the budget increase would cover salaries for new positions.

Many economic unknowns remain, according to the presentation. The state could face a financial shortfall of more than $5 billion, leaving the state funding situation still unclear, according to the presentation.

Federal funding opportunities also remain uncertain.

To put the situation in perspective, the economic downturn of FY2010 saw a 4.4 percent drop in the state budget and a 9 percent drop in local aid, Rothermich said.

The town is also facing questions on health insurance costs, which Rothermich described as “still a work in progress.”

The date of the Town Meeting, already postponed once to June 23, potentially could be pushed out again to late September, Cavanaugh noted. If that happens, the schools would operate on a “one-twelfth” budget, which means that budgeting would happen on a month-to-month basis based on the FY20 budget.

In this scenario, staffing would be affected, Cavanaugh said, because even if new positions were eventually approved, the timing of potential hires may not coincide with the school year.

She said she hopes a budget can be approved by the June 30 end of the fiscal year, which would make the situation “more clear.”

The financial impact of the crisis will likely be long-lasting, she said, and cover several years. “There are going to be some hard budgets ahead,” she said.

Rothermich compared the budget to a puzzle that has been taken apart and now must be reconnected.

“I believe we will be able to piece this together, but it’s going to be a lot of work,” she said.
Work on the high school renovation and portable classrooms will continue because these capital expenses have already been voted on, she said.

The committee also approved an increase in parking fees for high school students for the 2020-21 school year to $200 per student, the same as the bus fees. The parking fee currently is $155. The bus and parking fees always have been identical. Bus fees recently were increased to $200 for 2020-21.

In other news, the school district has added Sept. 14 as a school holiday to accommodate the running of the Boston Marathon, which was rescheduled from its traditional date on Patriots’ Day due to COVID-19. Boston Athletic Association representatives have reassured Cavanaugh that the middle school/high school complex, which is used as the Athletes Village prior to the race, will be cleaned up and ready for the schools to reopen the next day. If the race is not able to be run on Sept. 14 it will be canceled, Cavanaugh informed the committee.

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