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Budget cuts would further reduce school district's staffing


March 15, 2013

By Carley Dangona

carley@thereminder.com

WEST SPRINGFIELD — Superintendent of Schools Dr. Russell Johnston told the School Committee that if budget cuts prevail, the near minimum capacity staff could be reduced further.

Johnson presented the fiscal year 2014 (FY14) proposed school budget on March 12.

"To maintain the current services the school district offers, it requires a budget of $39.3 million dollar budget, which is a 3.87 percent increase from the fiscal year 2013 budget," Johnston said. "We're very cognizant of the level of increase we're requesting."

One reason for the increase is the need for funds to educate the staff, which the budget has lacked for a few years. "Cuts from the 2012 budget still affect us today. There is almost no money in our operating budget for professional development. The longer we go without this, the harder it is for us to do our business," Johnston explained.

Included in the FY14 budget proposal is the request for additional staff, including two part-time special education positions, a full-time assistant principal at Coburn Elementary School and a permanent salary for the special education director. Johnston totaled those requests at $101,500

Another proposed $90,700 increase pertained to the athletics department. "Athletics has been able to survive without an increase for the past several years," Johnston said, because of a donation to the department that is nearing depletion.

Summer painting funds totaling $30,000 are needed to maintain the basic upkeep of the schools. Johnston stated that the maintenance didn't happen this past year because there were no monies set aside in the current budget for it.

Johnston also addressed the grants received by the district, explaining that those dollars "are most likely to be affected by sequestration" and that not all are "continuation grants" and some fluctuate in dollar amount from one year to the next.

According to Johnston, grants enable the schools to provide programs such as Dropout Prevention where outreach, mentoring and summer school are provided to students in need. In addition, grants help fund teaching positions. Currently 50 full-time staff are employed by grants.

"The total grant revenue for the 2013 budget is $3.6 million — grants provide funding for services that other local and state funding cannot support," Johnston added.

He explained that when proposing budget cuts he first eliminated the items that will create the least impact on students and teachers.

If cuts require the district to use a level funded budget (LFB) of $37.8 million budget, then $1.5 million dollars would have to be cut from programs and services, according to Johnston.

He stated, "A level service budget maintains programs and services necessary for student learning and participation. Other factors such as enrollment, fluctuating special education costs and grant reductions could further impact level service budget."

"Budget cuts are difficult to project," Johnston explained. "Cuts are a great uncertainty that make me very unhappy."

To maintain a LFB, Johnston said the district would first start by increasing fees. The FY14 LFB proposes a $10 fee for student sport participation, a $10 transportation fee to transport students to and from school, and an increase to $50 for student parking fees.

"We know that families are strapped for cash as well," Johnston commented, noting that the transportation fee that doesn't currently exist would add $10,000 to the budget.

LFB would require reduction of both teaching and administrative staffing. Johnston described the current staffing of the teachers as "bare bones" and the administrative staff as "an already depleted team."

Included in the proposed cuts to maintain LFB are the reduction of full-time staff, including two administrative staff saving $173,400; three clerical staff saving $71,400; three custodial/maintenance staff saving $112,200; 11 paraprofessionals saving $157,800; and 13 teachers saving $511,300.

Johnston explained that staffing cuts would result in larger classes and elimination of useful programs.

Because of layoff, the district would have the added cost of an estimated $281,000 in unemployment benefits, Johnson said. "School safety and student learning are immediately impacted by reductions," he said.

Additional proposed cuts for LFB include the elimination of some ninth grade athletic teams and the reduction of afterschool clubs and late buses.

"The athletic teams keep students motivated and wanting to come to school," Johnston said. "[Extracurricular] activities are very painful to consider cutting. Passion and excitement for school happens both inside and outside the classroom."

The superintendent described the budget proposal as a "moving target" and explained that the cuts are proposed because of funding constraints.

The public hearing was continued by the School Committee until April 8 when the discussion will be opened to questions, comments and concerns from the public.

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