WILBRAHAM – The Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District is facing a shortfall of approximately $1.3 million in the fiscal year 2016 (FY16) school budget to provide a level service, which could result in reduced programming and the loss of jobs.
At its March 10 meeting, the School Committee approved the approximately $44.9 million FY16 school budget. The FY15 budget was a little less than $44 million.
Superintendent of Schools M. Martin O’Shea said the shortfall is due to annual revenue challenges “systemic in nature.”
“The gap between state aid and spending requirements is growing every year,” he noted.
O’Shea said this year the state reimbursed the district for 60 percent of its transportation costs, which are supposed to be fully funded by the state each year.
“We know that systemically we have to change the way we do business,” he added. “We have to put pressure on the state to make sure that our revenue relates to actual costs.”
School Committee Chair Marc Ducey said the decline in enrollment at the middle school level is also an issue that would likely effect future budgets due to reduced Chapter 70 money.
“It’s creating a perfect storm,” he added. “I don’t remember a time in recent history when there’s frankly been enough money. We need to continue to address things at a systemic level because you can only get so much out of the supplies. Teachers deserve raises. Our job is to control those costs and minimize these costs.”
School Committee member Peter Salerno said approximately $1 million during a two-year period accounted for unfunded mandates, not including regional transportation.
The proposed regional middle school could save the district $1.3 million, which is roughly the same amount as the FY16 shortfall, Ducey said.
“My hope is by this fall we will have answers,” he added. “Frankly, this will be your decision. Both towns need to approve this and if either one of the towns rejects it then it stops the process. The other thing that we need to do is [determine] what to we [should] do if it fails?”
Ducey said, “We have to have some different answers” in the budget next year when it comes to providing a level service.
O’Shea said some ideas to address the budget gap include paperless initiatives, identifying out-of-district programs that could be provided in-district in more cost effective manners, and increased class sizes.
“The specific ways that we’ll address that gap is ultimately a set of recommendations that we would bring to the School Committee that they would vote on, but right now we’re able to talk in general terms about how we might address the gap, he added.
“We’re not, tonight, one week after we got [Gov. Charlie Baker’s] budget, able to identify where specifically the reduction would come from or what services would be diminished,” he continued.
O’Shea said it will be an increasing challenge to maintain current class sizes in the coming year.
Some of the FY16 budget cost increases includes collective bargaining agreements such as a $974,985 salary obligation increase, a $300,000 increase to facilities and operations, and a 3.7 percent cost increases for transportation, he noted.
The increased to Hampden is by 3.23 percent, which is about $223,746, and the increase to Wilbraham is 4.42 percent equaling $921,253, O’Shea said. The increases to both communities exclude the Minnechaug Regional High School debt.
Overall, the revenue to the district included $1.2 million in regional transportation, $450,000 in school choice, and increase of Chapter 70 money that equates to $20 per student throughout the Commonwealth, he noted.