By Chris Maza
WILBRAHAM – In an effort to fight off as many cuts to programs as possible, the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District (HWRSD) recently announced that it would raise tuition for its preschool program.
The program, which operates out of Minnechaug Regional High School, was one of the services in danger of being cut or altered prior to the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School Committee’s decision on April 22 to increase the fees for participating families.
The increase was suggested by Minnechaug Principal Stephen Hale and HWRSD Superintendent M. Martin O’Shea.
“I am pleased with the study conducted by Principal Stephen Hale and the creative solutions and options that he and Superintendent O’Shea brought forward,” School Committee Chair Peter Salerno said. “As a committee, we believe that we have set a fair tuition rate that will allow us to sustain an important program.”
In the coming year, families of 3-year-old students in the program will be charged $1,000 per year, while services for returning 4-year-olds will cost $1,300. Families of 4-year-olds entering the program for the first time will be charged $1,500.
HWRSD has been struggling with how to address a shortfall of roughly $1.2 million in the fiscal year 2015 budget, which O’Shea attributed to a decline in aid from the state, a drop in enrollment and rising costs.
In addition to normal operating costs, Salerno and O’Shea noted in a letter to state legislators earlier this year that the district has spent more than $1 million in order to come into compliance with new educational frameworks and assessment strategies, many of which were unfunded mandates.
Because of these problems, O’Shea told the School Committee that he projected the need to cut 8.4 full time equivalent (FTE) teaching positions, 2.5 FTE counseling positions and nine FTE paraprofessional positions.
He did note that four or five of the teaching positions slated to be cut could be attributed to declining enrollment.