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$1.9 million gap between school budget, mayor’s

Date: 5/15/2015

WESTFIELD – The School Department’s requested budget for the 2016 fiscal year exceeds the money budgeted by Mayor Daniel Knapik by nearly $2 million, though that number is not set in stone.

The operational budget – excluding capital and technology needs – totaled $60.6 million, an increase of $3.9 million from the 2015 fiscal year budget. Knapik’s proposed budget is $58.7 million.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Suzanne Scallion and Director of Technology and Business Ronald Rix presented their requested level service budget for the 2016 fiscal year. The public hearing was on May 11 at South Middle School.

Knapik’s budget falls $1.9 million short of the requested funds but he said there is a chance this gap could grow in the next couple of weeks.

Because of a snow and ice removal deficit that is around $600,000 more than it has been in the past, Knapik said the city is trying to find ways to cover it.

“There’s still a lot of numbers moving around now … as it relates to what the city needs,” Knapik said. “I have advised that the superintendent and Mr. Rix to prepare for an additional $500,000 or $1 million cut depending on how things shake out, and I’ll probably know more in two weeks … It could change dramatically.”

Before the presentation, Rix said putting the requested budget together was collaboration from all ends of the school district.

“It’s really been a team effort, working with the principals and all the district administration, human resources,” Rix said. “As you know, as we present the budget throughout the year, it’s constantly a moving target.”

The budget presentation showed increases and decreases in each line item, using the 2015 fiscal year budget as a reference point.

The largest increase is to the negotiated raises, which will see a $1.5 million bump if approved.

Rix said the $79,700 increase in maintenance and the $211,000 allotted for the Juniper Park School relocation are largely one-time fees and up-front costs.

The maintenance increase is set to cover the move from Juniper Park to the Russell Elementary School, an estimated $30,000. The rest will cover equipment, such as snow blowers, that were previously provided by Westfield State.

The budgeted relocation costs will go toward paying custodians, which were also previously paid for by Westfield State, start up activities, picking up water and sewage and a phone system, among other first-time expenses.

While it adds up in the proposed budget, Rix said it was planned this way.

Russell Elementary School is a temporary home for the students until the new elementary school is built in the city. Previously the students attended Juniper Park School, which is owned by Westfield State?University. The university needs the school for its education program.

The request from the School Department would be not only an immediate fix for Russell School but also used for the long-term when the new school is completed.

“We’ve done that intentionally so when we leave there we can take [the improvements] to another school,” Rix said. “We’re paying up front, but it will help us out in one of our smaller schools in a few years hopefully when we move from that lease.”

Even though the move from Juniper Park will cost the district upfront, the budget also cuts some expenses. A total of $66,250 decrease will come from leases, as well as $452,925 from salary reductions, namely retirements and four positions that have been moved from the school budget expenses to the city’s.

Special education tuition has a requested bump of nearly $1 million, which School Committee member Ramon Diaz said is considerably small compared to other communities.

“We still do a really good job in Westfield about keeping that number low,” Diaz said. “Every year I’ve looked at it, ever year I’ve been on the committee, and it’s been about half of what everyone else’s is. It’s a big number, but it’s better than it could be.”

The requested budget has accounted for $2.6 million in total offsets, coming in the form of grants and fees.