Schools present tentative budget of $54.3M

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The Hopkinton school district presented a tentative budget of $54,307,442, an increase of a little over 6 percent from the current budget, at a joint meeting Thursday with the Select Board and Appropriations Committee.

This was the first look at a projected school budget for Fiscal Year 2022. The current budget stands at $51,206,402.

Of the projected figure, $2,141,775, or 4.18 percent, maintains current services.

Also requested were special education increases of $277,867 for 7.4 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions, which adds .54 percent to the budget; instructional cost/enrollment growth-related requests of $362,189 for 5.4 FTEs, which adds .71 percent to the budget; instructional program enhancements of $130,336 for 1.6 FTEs, which adds .25 percent to the budget; and administration support and facility enhancements of $188,874 for 4.2 FTEs, which adds .37 percent to the budget.

This budget allows for current class sizes to remain intact, superintendent Carol Cavanaugh said, and offers “a little elasticity.”

Three major unknowns drive the budget request, she said.

The cost of personal protective equipment at about $187,000 is included in the budget, although there is a chance that state funding could cover at least some of that, schools director of finance Susan Rothermich said.

Teachers, nurses and paraprofessional contracts will factor into the budget. Cavanaugh repeated her comments from earlier meetings that maintaining a 2.5 percent increase, which some support, will require personnel cuts. About 300 teachers of the 350 districtwide are scheduled to receive either a 4.22 percent raise, a 4.73 percent raise or both, she said.

Future enrollment remains another factor. Particularly after the pandemic, there is uncertainty about how many students who have left the district could return, while the housing market continues to be strong.

The town’s highly ranked school system and other strong town services attract new residents. The rapid rate of growth will slow, but construction will continue and people will find small parcels to build on if they want to move into town, Cavanaugh said.

Town manager Norman Khumalo said having a budget meeting this early represents a “step in the right direction” toward reaching a final figure. “We do understand we are early in the process,” he said.

Select board member Brian Herr said that the budget seems “reasonable” but that overall town budget figures remain unknown. “I don’t know how it will impact the overall budget,” he said. “Then it might be unreasonable.”

He urged officials not to be “tone deaf” to current conditions, which he said has happened before. “This is not the year for big raises,” he said, which could “alienate” the community. “Nobody’s getting them in the private sector.”

School Committee member Meg Tyler praised the budget as “tight and tidy.”

Chair Amanda Fargiano agreed. “We get a lot of value from the dollars we invest,” she said.

In other issues, Fargiano presented portions of a letter sent Thursday to Gov. Charlie Baker from the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents and the Massachusetts Association of School Committees.

The letter notes that while everyone would prefer in-person learning, there are logistical challenges that individual districts face, and it called for support and clarity.

“Now more than ever we need elected officials at all levels of government to deliver a unified message about the complexity of this public health situation,” the letter reads in part.

“Instead our members find themselves continuously trying to correct misinformation and educate their constituents about the unique circumstances in each community and the complex set of factors that contributed to the learning model adopted in each district.”

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