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School Committee weighs in on FY09 budget

Mary Czajkowski, superintendent of Agawam Public Schools (center), presented the department's fiscal year 2009 budget proposal to the School Committee last week. The proposal calls for a 6.02 percent increase over FY08. Reminder Publications photo by Katelyn Gendron
By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

AGAWAM Last week Superintendent Mary Czajkowski presented the School Department's $34.1 million fiscal year 2009 (FY09) budget a 6.02 percent increase over FY08 to the School Committee, despite Mayor Susan Dawson's request for level funded budget proposals from all departments.

Dawson told Reminder Publications that Czajkowski presented the only FY09 budget that was not level funded. She explained that pending lawsuits have the potential to create financial hardship for the town therefore, creating the need for fiscal restraint. Dawson was not willing to comment further on the lawsuits due to the fact that they are still in litigation.

"There really is no dollar amount you can put on educating children, but I have to," Dawson said.

Prior to her budget presentation, Czajkowski told the School Committee, "This is a budget that puts children first."

Czajkowski explained that the FY09 budget process began in November with school principals and administrators discussing fixed costs and proposed staffing and facility improvements. She said principals requested a 7.92 percent increase from FY08 for various needs.

Czajkowski explained that within the proposed 6.02 percent increase, 4.25 percent is net increases, 0.95 percent is for additional staffing and 0.82 percent for special projects.

Additional staffing requests include hiring three additional elementary school teachers in order to comply with contract negotiations, which stipulate that each teacher must be granted 30 minutes of prep time daily. Other staffing requested at the elementary schools include two science teachers and an additional physical education teacher so that the schools no longer have to share three.

Other staffing requests include a guidance counselor at the middle school, an intensive math teacher and biology and physical science teacher at the junior high school, an increase in special education staff and an increase of hours for Information Technology staff.

Proposed funding for special projects include accreditation for the high school, mandated PSAT testing, chemistry texts, updated equipment for the Video Production class, AVA-Classroom projector systems, updated library books and technology and a tuba for the music department.

Czajkowski explained that "creative restructuring" of staff positions has also been proposed in order to become more cost effective such as a proposal not to replace two retiring teachers at Granger Elementary School due to decreasing student enrollment.

Czajkowski said the school district has requested far less in state aid for FY09 due to decreased enrollment.

At the meeting, School Committee Vice Chair Anthony Bonavita said he fully supported the proposed budget.

School Committee member Linda Galarneau said she believed the proposed budget "definitely keeps us moving forward." She added that she "relies on the good judgment of administrators" when reviewing the budget's line items such as funding for mandating that students take the PSATs or for accreditation.

Czajkowski said while she and other administrators chose not to present a level funded budget to the School Committee, she requested notice and additional time for those cuts to be made.

A public hearing for the proposed FY09 School Department's budget will take place on April 8.