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Growth expected to continue in schools

By Courtney Llewellyn

Reminder Assistant Editor

EAST LONGMEADOW The first official presentation of the proposed school budget for Fiscal Year 2009 was given by Superintendent Edward Costa at the Jan. 7 meeting of the School Committee. The detailed report covered "no 'wish lists' ... only essential needs," according to Costa.

To figure out how much money the school district needs for the 2008-09 school year, the committee first had to look to the past to study birth and migration rates. Since 1998, the population of five-year-olds entering East Longmeadow Public Schools has increased from 12 to 40 percent from the number of children born in the town due to migration. The projected growth for this age range over the next few years is 26 percent.

"We use the past 10 years to predict the next 10 years," Costa explained. Sizes of all 13 grades -- kindergarten through senior year -- have been predicted through 2018.

"By 2011 -- three years from now - we're expected to break the 3,000 student mark," Costa told the committee. "Each and every year, though, we succeed in beating our projected enrollment."

The projected enrollment for school year 2008-09 is 2,950, which is only nine more than the current number of students. Between the 2006-07 and 2007-08 school years, the district grew by 27 students. In the past five years, 285 new students have enrolled.

"We'll probably see 3,000 by next year," Costa stated.

State funding, however, is based on projections only. If the East Longmeadow Public Schools expand to more than 2,950 students next year, they will have to work with a smaller budget.

"A school is like a business," Costa said. "With a business, however, with more customers you receive more income. That's not true with schools."

"We continue to be a community left behind," Thomas McGowan, vice-chair of the School Committee, said, "and we have to fight it every year."

McGowan also voiced concerns about the size of Birchland Park Middle School, which was built only eight years ago and has already reached full capacity.

Costa continued his presentation by saying there is no end in sight for the growth of East Longmeadow's student population. Fortunately, more than 80 percent of the FY09 school budget goes directly to the education and care of that student body.

Divided into six major sections (instructional services, student support services, maintenance, utilities, site administration and district-wide office services), the total projected budget would be $24,233,019, an increased of approximately $1.8 million over last year's budget.

Eighty-six percent -- or $20,809,434 -- will cover things like teachers' salaries, library services, textbooks, vocational and special education tuitions, medical and therapy services, transportation, student activities and clubs and security services, among other student-related things.

"That much going to students is something to be proud of," Costa said. The national average for percentage of school budgets directly benefiting students is only 77.5 percent.

As of the end of December, the school district's budget, according to business manager Theresa Olajarz, is having some issue with special education but is otherwise on target for this time of year.

The first public hearing to discuss the FY09 school budget will be scheduled soon, with an additional one to three public hearings to follow. While only hearing is required, Costa said the school typically hosts between two and four to gain as much public input as possible.

To view the full projected enrollment report or the proposed budget, visit