Easthampton school board unanimously votes for level-services budget
EASTHAMPTON — Following a nearly two-hour public hearing where residents voiced concerns about the impact of potential cuts to the schools, the School Committee voted unanimously Tuesday for a level-services budget for fiscal 2014 that contains no reductions in existing staff or programs.
The $17.38 million spending plan is contingent on city funding of $15.61 million, a 3 percent increase over this year’s appropriation of $15 million to the schools.
The proposed budget also uses all available school choice funds for the coming year to offset anticipated reductions in state aid and grant funding.
Mayor Michael A. Tautznik, who voted for the plan, said it is “unlikely” given current revenue projections that the city can provide the full increase the School Committee is seeking.
“We have no state budget at this point, so this is entirely speculative,” he said. “But it’s probable that the request won’t be funded to the level that’s being asked.”
Still, at the urging of parents and school administrators who spoke at Tuesday’s public hearing, Tautznik agreed to look into whether some portion of free cash or stabilization fund reserves could be used to keep the schools at level services for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
“We could consider it,” Tautznik said, though he added that other city departments are “feeling just as strapped as the schools.”
If the city decides not to increase its appropriation from the current $15 million, the schools would face a shortfall of $609,412 in next year’s budget.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Superintendent Nancy Follansbee described budget-balancing reductions of $282,245 administrators have come up with to address such a deficit. They include cutting a staff position at Easthampton High School, a tutor and a half-time staff position at White Brook Middle School, $12,000 in technology maintenance and $129,000 in special education services districtwide.
Follansbee warned that further cuts could have a negative impact on class sizes and Easthampton’s ability to accept students from other districts through school choice.
“It’s been very challenging for us as a leadership team to think about making more cuts,” she said. “I don’t think we know at this point where we could possibly make more.”
Follansbee emphasized that the level-services budget does not allow for any expansion of school staff or programs or restoration of 23 full-time positions that have been cut since 2009 to balance the department’s budget.
Parents who spoke at the hearing voiced concerns about the funding challenges facing the schools.
“My son is in special education and I already feel like we’re not getting the services,” said Becky Sullivan. “I really hope there is some other way we can find for the mayor and the City Council to give us more funding.”
“It’s pretty clear the schools can’t sustain more cuts,” said Jackie Brousseau-Pereira, who has a third grader at Center School. “And the schools aren’t just for our children. They’re the basis for our community.”
School Committee member Deborah Lusnia encouraged parents to join the board in contacting legislators about the need to increase funding for the schools.
Chairwoman Nancy Sykes added that lobbying efforts should also target municipal leaders.
“Let’s not forget that we have a city government and the mayor’s door is open,” she said. “Let’s not just jump over local government.”
The School Committee’s recommended budget is posted on the district’s website, www.easthampton.k12-ma.us.