Town to decide whether or not to accept 8.9 percent increase
The Hopkinton School Committee unanimously approved a $52,309,719 budget for FY21, a budget that represents an 8.9 percent ($4.3 million) increase over FY20.
The vote, which was taken during the Jan. 16 School Committee meeting, sends the budget to the town for discussion before the Annual Town Meeting in May. This budget is close to 3 percent above the town’s guidance to the school district of keeping under a 6 percent increase, but an increase that was strongly defended by the School Committee members.
“This is as fiscally responsible as our district and can be and still meet the needs — barely — of our students,” said School Committee member Jen Devlin. “I wouldn’t be comfortable trimming this any more than we already have.”
The budget has been under discussion for several months and was presented to the public for comments the week before the vote.
Providing level services was the goal of this year’s budget, but with the increased enrollment over the past few years (close to 400 additional students since the 2015-16 school year), the district was faced this coming year with increased transportation needs, additional social emotional learning program needs and staff needs to fill close to 30 positions that were the result of 14 new classrooms that were approved at the Special Town Meeting in December.
“We have had rapid growth [over the past few years], and it has been challenging to keep pace with that,” superintendent Dr. Carol Cavanaugh said during the presentation.
Next year the school district is expecting to add another 234 students to its enrollment numbers, and if projections are correct the district could see another 1,000 in the doors by the year 2030.
“This increase has been several years building,” commented School Committee member Amanda Fargiano. “We have been absorbing this growth for several years. There is no ‘fluff’ here. This [budget] is about running the school responsibly.”
Much of the budget increase (7.6 out of 8.9 percent) comes from salary increases — both contractual obligations ($1.7 million) and new staff ($1.8 million). The district is planning to add 13.5 full-time equivalent (FTE) classroom teachers, 8.6 staff in the Student Services Department, 1.5 staff to administration, 1.2 members to the Social Emotional Learning Department, four support staff, three staff to Buildings and Grounds, and one to the Technology Department in addition to the staff that was approved this year due to the unplanned increase in student enrollment.
The other portion of the increase are expenses, which are proposed to increase by $600,000, made up mainly of transportation costs and out-of-district tuitions.
“Obviously this is a very big number, but there are needs to consider which numbers alone can not articulate,” said School Committee chair Meena Bharath, voicing her support while cautioning that there still was “work to do” with the town to get the final approval.
“This is a work in progress,” she said. “I ask that we look under every rock for efficiencies and grant funding.”
With the budget approved by the School Committee, it moves to the town for approval.