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Schools warn of looming budget increase to handle expansion

by | Oct 2, 2019 | Education

The Hopkinton Public School District will be looking for support from the town for a significant budget increase for next school year as enrollment continues to climb.

Superintendent Dr. Carol Cavanaugh spoke about the challenges the district will be facing as they start building their 2020-21 budget during the Sept. 19 School Committee meeting. With the launch of the budget season beginning on Sept. 24, the district already has begun discussing its needs for both its FY21 operational and capital budgets.

“Ninety-eight percent of our classrooms at the high school are at full capacity,” Cavanaugh said. “The freshman and junior classes are so large they can not even all fit in the auditorium.”

The district recently hired DRA Architects in Waltham to conduct a capacity study in the school buildings after the district has experienced unprecedented enrollment growth over the past few years. The capacity study was to look at not only the potential for additional classroom space, but also to ensure the current space was being used efficiently. The full report is due back to the district at the end of November.

The high school is one of the buildings that is being evaluated closely, with students being turned away from classes due to space constraints, very few teacher workspaces to collaborate, students taking study halls in large spaces that are not conducive to quiet study, and some classes being taught in rooms with no windows for natural light.

“Those spaces are not sustainable for a high school this size,” Cavanaugh said. “The demand is much greater than [the rooms can] supply.”

Each of the schools in the district are facing similar issues as the enrollment increases exponentially each year. On the first day of school, enrollment had increased by 240 students from the end of the previous school year. As of Sept. 19, that number had already increased to 251.

At Hopkins Elementary School, that enrollment growth is going to equal a large budget increase, as an estimated five additional teachers will need to be hired by next year to keep class sizes down to a reasonable 21-22 students per class. An additional five teachers would mean a budget increase of $400,000 for Hopkins alone.

Cavanaugh told the School Committee that going into the FY21 budget season, the district plans to bring forth a number of requests both capital (modular classrooms and expansions to existing buildings) and operational (full-time educators).

“I have been saying that we have been absorbing growth without adding an enormous number of staff, and now we are bursting at the seams,” Cavanaugh said.

The year over year budget will already begin with a 3 percent increase for contractual salary raises, according to Cavanaugh, and that is without adding any new staff. A 1 percent increase for each building to bring in staff to keep up with the increase in enrollment could add up to a 9 percent increase for just the operational budget alone.

“I hope that people will be willing to support a budget that will be very big operationally,” Cavanaugh said. “As will the capital budget as well.”

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