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Superintendent hosts budget roundtable to update towns on school finances

Date: 1/11/2010

Jan. 11, 2010

By Tom Relihan

Staff Intern

WILBRAHAM -- The Budget Roundtable Group met on Jan. 6 in the media center of Minnechaug Regional High School to discuss topics in the school budget for the towns of Wilbraham and Hampden.

The annual meeting -- which included members of the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District (HWRSD) School Committee, the Hampden and Wilbraham boards of selectmen, the Wilbraham Finance Committee and the Hampden Advisory Committee -- featured a presentation by M. Martin O'Shea, Superintendent of Schools. The presentation offered budget information, projections and a view of where the group currently stands.

During the presentation, O'Shea outlined three major points: a review of the budget, maintenance budget issues and an update on the construction of the new Minne-chaug. O'Shea said that over the past few years, the group has been able to put together a budget that reflects the priorities of the district.

Currently working with a $37,899,703 budget, which shows a .5 percent decrease from fiscal year 2009, the schools have cut 7.5 teaching positions, 15 paraprofessional positions, three clerical positions, removed one school bus from their fleet and implemented custodial furloughs. They have also cut back spending on supplies, materials and equipment. O'Shea attributed these cuts to declining enrollment, which has dropped by a total of 47 students 46 in Hampden and one in Wilbraham.

Fortunately, O'Shea said, this year the committee was able to put together a collective bargaining agreement which resulted in a one-day teacher furlough, scheduled for Jan. 25. He said next year there will be a two-day furlough, cutting back the number of in-service days from five to three.

Also discussed at the meeting was the issue of regional transportation, which has seen a decline in reimbursement in recent years. The district now only receives a 56 percent reimburse-ment of transportation costs from the state, which was brought back up from a mere 29 percent in October due to lobbying of the governor's office by State Reps. Brian Ashe and Angelo Puppolo as well as State Sen. Gale Candaras.

The last issue discussed was the construction of the new Minnechaug high school building. O'Shea stated the design is currently being finalized, with various committees working on aspects such as technology, furniture, the pool and district offices and space utilization. The groundbreaking for the new building -- which will be located on the same campus as the old school -- is scheduled for this June, and occupation of the new school by students and faculty is expected by September 2012.

"Looking at these budgets," said School Committee member D. John McCarthy, "it's really challenging to find anything to cut. It's a very lean budget. There's no fat, nothing much to cut."