By Chris Maza
EAST LONGMEADOW – East Longmeadow Public Schools developed a fiscal year 2015 (FY15) budget with a 1 percent increase from the year before, but that will not be enough to keep the district heading in the positive course it set for itself, according the Superintendent Gordon Smith.
Smith told the School Committee during its Feb. 4 meeting that at the beginning of the budget season, the Appropriations Committee instructed all town departments to create a preliminary budget with a 1 percent increase, however, as the process has gone on, the leadership team realized it would not be able to maintain level services under that directive.
“As we’ve continued to develop our budget and look at how we move students forward this year and how we move students forward next year, a 2.6 percent increase is going to be needed to reach level services,” he said. “That means that we increase our budget by 2.6 percent – it is within the realm of where the town has supported us before – in order to make sure everything we’re doing now continues to be acted upon next year.
“There’s no move forward, but making sure things that we have in place that we feel are supporting students are continued into next year,” he added.
With the 1 percent increase, the budget for FY15 would equal $27.4 million. At level services, it would jump to $27.8 million.
Smith showed the budget increases since 2010 to illustrate the point. In FY10 and FY11, there were hikes of 1.9 and 0.7 percent, respectively. However, since FY12 after he was hired as Superintendent, budgets have not been lower than 2.9 percent higher than the year before – FY12 saw a 3.7 percent increase, FY13 represented a 2.9 percent rise and FY14’s budget was 4.1 percent higher.
“The last few years the town has been incredible in supporting our students and really helping us move all educational programming forward,” he said. “These numbers here show that obviously everyone takes pride and is looking to support our students.”
Part of the budgeting process, Smith explained, involved the focused identification needs within the district in order to meet its goals. If the district were to fund the needs identified in this year’s process, the increase would jump to 3.8 percent, or $28.2 million.
“This time last year, I talked with you about identifying 15 to 20 needs and initiatives that we could have presented,” he said. “This year, based on that process, you’re not going to see outlandish needs; you’re going to see everything that’s targeted at meeting those goals and trying to maintain fiscal responsibility.”
At the elementary level, a request was made to increase the reading interventionist at Meadow Brook School from a 0.5 full time equivalent (FTE) position to 1.0 FTE in order to help all students read at grade level by third grade.
Mapleshade and Mountain View schools requested a math instruction to go along with the literacy coach that currently serves the schools.
“Math scores at the grades three to five levels in both MCAS [Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System] and our district assessments are consistently lower than ELA. They always have been,” Mountain View Principal Elaine Santaniello said. “We’d really like to work on raising those scores in math and we feel if we have a coach to share between the buildings like we do with literacy, we’ll be able to move in that direction.”
Birchland Park Middle School and East Longmeadow High School requested additional special education teachers to help with transitions to more inclusionary educational settings as students’ academic careers advance.
“What we’ve moved to this year is an inclusion model in which our special education teachers – we only have four of them – are now being placed with general [education] teachers so there is real-time support for students,” East Longmeadow High School Principal Gina Flanagan said. “Teachers can collaborate while they’re together and that’s worked out really well. The problem is we only have four teachers, so our inclusion model right now only includes ninth and 10th grade ELA and math.”
An additional math teacher was also identified as a need for the high school to pare down class sizes in some classes such as algebra and geometry.
Assistant Superintendent for Business Theresa Olejarz also suggested a part-time assistant transportation manager position. The manager currently works from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. during the week and remains available via phone in case of emergencies, but the superintendent’s office often has to field calls from parents regarding transportation when she is not available.
“The thought is to have an assistant transportation manager available in the afternoon in order to help handle those questions and deal with a lot of the paperwork,” Olejarz said.