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New school budget plugs holes in student services

Date: 1/30/2014

By Chris Maza

LONGMEADOW – Longmeadow Public Schools will host a presentation of its fiscal year 2015 (FY15) budget on Feb. 4.

The meeting will take place at 7 p.m. in room A-15, located in the administration wing of Longmeadow High School. The meeting will include a public comment portion during which residents can ask questions.

Superintendent of Schools Marie Doyle told Reminder Publications that the district took a hard look at plugging some of the holes in its services for students that recent testing identified.

“Our focus this year in budget development was supporting student achievement,” she said. “When we looked at MCAS [Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System] scores, we saw that there were gaps and we tried to realign staff to meet the needs of students in areas that could use bolstering.”

Doyle explained the FY15 budget calls for the hiring of additional special education teachers at the elementary level and literacy coaches in the middle schools.

“We’ve also taken away some positions in order to fund some of the new slots,” she said.

Doyle added that she did not foresee undue budgetary burden on the district with the implementation of an open enrollment for fee-based kindergarten, but the schools are preparing contingencies.

“We’re leaving some backup funds in case we haven’t budgeted enough,” she said. “We did our best to cap the fees at $3,000, feeling that was a lot to ask from parents, so in terms of unexpected, enrollment, I think we’re prepared to handle that.”

Both Doyle and Town Manager Stephen Crane said it was their goal to avoid the level of conflict that existed during last year’s budget cycle, which included a lengthy and public fight over additional funding for the schools after the Select Board issued a budget directive that required 0 percent increases. The issue went to the floor of the Annual Town Meeting and an additional $353,000 was eventually awarded to the schools.

“I wasn’t here for the budget negotiations last year, but since I arrived, I have maintained an open dialogue with the school department, especially the superintendent, on all matters of common interest, including the budget and opportunities regarding current partnerships we have, whether it be the [Information Technology] Department, the [Human Resources] Department and buildings. We’re also communicating on future opportunities for partnership,” he said.

“There has been good communication between the general government and the schools on an ongoing basis and I expect it to be no different as we prepare the budget,” he added.

Crane said the directive to all departments was to develop a level-service budget and any additional funding would have to be approved by submitting a supplemental budget request.

“I think the communication has been excellent,” Doyle said. “I think the goal of Stephen Crane, the School Committee and myself is to make sure we are collaborating and doing what’s best not only for the students, but also for the town. We’re trying to come in with a budget that is in line with the town’s financial ability to support it.”