School superintendents work to close budget gaps
Date: 2/23/2011Feb. 23, 2011
By Katelyn Gendron
Assistant Managing Editor
GREATER SPRINGFIELD The current economic recession has yielded some grim municipal budgets but none more so than those projected in fiscal year 2012 (FY12).
School superintendents are laboring to fill budget gaps caused by reductions to Chapter 70 aid, increasing overhead and a lack of federal stimulus funds.
"Over the last three years, with the assistance of federal and state grants, we have been able to offset these rising fixed costs in our schools, while also maintaining quality programs, staff and services. However, this year we have reached the 'funding cliff' (drop-off point)," Dr. Mary Czajkowski, school superintendent in Agawam, wrote in her FY12 budget memo.
"Federal grant funds totaling approximately $1 million will no longer be available, while our fixed costs will continue to increase. We will be faced with some difficult choices. Because of this 'funding cliff,' we will no longer be able to maintain the quality programs and services that have been afforded to our students and families," she continued.
Czajkowski has proposed several options to close the budget gap, including layoffs, the elimination of freshman sports, and the institution of fees for athletics, extra curricular clubs, full-day kindergarten and transportation. Such measures could cover the FY12 deficit in order to maintain a level-funded budget totaling $35.9 million.
"My philosophy is: let's stay informed, let's stay cautious," Dr. Russell Johnston, school superintendent in West Springfield, said.
The "biggest issues" within this budget cycle, he added, are the loss of the department's $2.1 million in federal stimulus funds and the "$1.5 million that we'd have to make up in lost revenue and increasing expenses."
A portion of the $2.1 million in American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) monies could be supplemented with allocations from Education Jobs Funds totaling $797,000, Johnston explained.
When asked if additional concessions from the unions would be required, he replied, "We've opened up the dialogue while the stakes are still low. There are implications of furloughs and layoffs but we're problem solving together.
Johnston noted Mayor Edward Gibson has asked each department head to prepare a level funded budget, and two others with a 5- and 10-percent overall reduction. A level funded FY12 budget would total approximately $38 million, he said.
Johnston will be making his budget presentation at the March 8 School Committee meeting.
For the Southwick-Tolland Regional School District, the FY12 budget picture may not be so dire, according to Superintendent Dr. John Barry. "It's a tough year but if the governor's number [for Chapter 70 funds] holds, we should be in pretty good shape. Our budget process is going to be very reliant on how the governor's number plays out in the Legislature," he said.
Barry has prepared what he calls a "modest" budget with only a 2.2 percent increase over FY11, totaling $19.2 million. He noted the department's proposed FY12 budget includes $8.2 million in Chapter 70 aid, a decrease from FY11.
Barry will present his budget proposal during a public hearing on March 15.
Westfield Superintendent Shirley Alvira said Chapter 70 monies would be level funded in FY12 and the overall budget would total between $48 million and $53 million.
"The mayor's instruction was to prepare two budgets: level funded and a 5 percent reduction," she explained, noting that her department was "very careful" about financing faculty and staff salaries with ARRA funds.
Alvira said she is in negotiations with the unions, while working with Mayor Daniel Knapik and school principals to trim the budget in every way possible, while still maintaining essential services.
Alvira will present her budget to the mayor sometime in March.