The Select Board on Tuesday heard preliminary data from Superintendent Carol Cavanaugh ahead of the budget process, outlining some expected needs and including information about special education in fiscal year 2025.
Town Manager Norman Khumalo said the annual budget message would be issued on Oct. 3. Select Board and School Committee members spoke about the need for collaboration and transparency to avoid mistakes made in the past.
“Last year, we had miscommunication unintentionally,” Select Board chair Muriel Kramer noted.
School Committee chair Nancy Cavanaugh said it is important to start meetings early with the Budget Advisory Board with representatives from both boards as well as the Appropriations Committee participating.
Khumalo said although it is “of great value” to have that collaboration, he said the challenge comes in the next phase of the process — identifying funding sources for the budget.
“At that point, the questions that come up are different from those during the budget process,” Khumalo said. “That’s when, from my vantage point, I say respectfully — the misunderstanding comes up.”
Khumalo hopes to present a comprehensive budget to the Select Board by Jan. 23.
Select Board member Shahidul Mannan said his board needs to set aside time when all five members are present to hear school budget presentations and “check the pulse” prior to when the town finalizes its overall budget.
Eventually, the three committees decided to meet on Dec. 14, Jan. 4 and Jan. 11 ahead of a Jan. 18 vote on the school budget by the School Committee.
Superintendent gives presentation
Carol Cavanaugh and Assistant Superintendent Susan Rothermich led a presentation that covered enrollment and per pupil expenditures in addition to special education and future staffing needs.
Of the data, Cavanaugh said, “It may stimulate some of your thinking as you are preparing a budget message and looking at sources of revenue.”
She said that projections by demographer Arthur Wagman had enrollment for the end of this school year at 4,186 students. The current number is 4,188, or two students more than expected in June 2024.
The superintendent noted that as the fiscal year 2025 budget is developed, her staff will be working with an enrollment of 4,290 students, which is the end of the year projection for that fiscal year.
While reviewing historical enrollment data, Cavanaugh said the actual end of year enrollment consistently comes out higher than what is projected.
With the upcoming budget, the district is seeking to accommodate an additional 112 students. When broken down into 1.4 teachers for each set of 20 students, the superintendent said the ask would total $630,000.
She also talked about additional personnel already “bought” in FY24 that shows in the budget for FY25. These include a 0.5 teaching position at Elmwood School to help with 15 students with intensive special needs. Also, five paraprofessionals were added to keep up with an increasing number of special education students.
A middle school director for ELA (English learning acquisition) covered by grants in the last two fiscal years will have to be paid for out of the budget in FY25, she said.
Special education statistics highlighted
The district has 533 students on special education plans. Of those, 406 students have a documented disability. Seventy-eight students have a documented disability as well as qualify as low income, 39 have a documented disability as well as qualify for English learner services, and 10 have all three considerations.
In total, 13% of the district’s students have special needs. Since 2018-19, the district has added 600 students, so it is expected 13% of those students will have special needs.
The caseloads have gone from 10 on average to 14 per teacher, and higher grades have ratios over 20. Instead of having 10 teachers for every 100 students with disabilities as in the past, the district has 7.3 teachers per 100 in that population, the superintendent said.
Rothermich spoke about contractual obligations with the custodial staff, paraprofessionals and teachers/nurses. She said those totaled a 3.4% salary increase in the FY24 budget. When transportation, special education out-of-district costs and other obligations are added in, it is a 4.4% increase, the same as expected in FY25.
Possible requests, per pupil expenditures outlined
The superintendent noted that the data indicated a need to pay for the ELA director, the possible addition of three full-time SPED educators, the addition of five SPED paraprofessionals (already determined), the addition of 8.4 full-time teachers to cover enrollment increases, and growth of the administrative staff.
Of the latter item, she said principals are “starting to drown under the numbers” at the younger grade levels. Hopkins School, Carol Cavanaugh said, has 650 students with one principal and one assistant principal.
She highlighted per pupil expenditures (which can be found on the mass.gov website) that show out of 321 districts, Hopkinton places in the bottom 25% in seven out of 12 categories. The district is in the bottom 50% in the others, according to FY22 data.
Hopkinton was in the bottom 25% in half of the dozen categories in FY21.
The superintendent said she was not showing the per pupil rates to ask for something. “It’s an illustration we’re getting the job done and do a lot with conservative budgeting,” she said.
Kramer noted, “We look forward to working with you on a hard process, and I appreciate the grind of your professional staff.”
Other calendar items presented
Khumalo presented key dates going forward, and they were approved by the three boards. These included the 2024 Town Meeting warrant closing on Feb. 6. This deadline, he said, has been problematic in the past with some departments submitting capital requests “way past” the date. He said he would like all submissions for the warrant by the end of the year. “Don’t use Feb. 6 to circumvent the calendar,” he said.
April 15 is the date for the Select Board to have a public hearing/vote on the budget, with a report for Town Meeting consideration one week later.