By Kristin Wright | Contributor
The budget being presented to voters on Town Meeting Day is $7,401,800—a reduction of $601,919 from the baseline budget (the estimate of funds needed to operate the school with the same staffing and programming) received at the outset of the budget season and $194,196 lower than the current operating budget. Although the proposed budget is lower than the current year’s, the tax formulation by the state will result in a flat tax rate to town residents.
The State Legislature set spending percentage limits on schools for the upcoming year along with penalties if the threshold is exceeded. The percentage allowed depends on per-pupil spending, a number affected by increases or decreases in student enrollment. Enrollment at CCS declined slightly for 2015-16, contracts imposed modest salary increases for faculty and support staff, and health insurance premiums skyrocketed. The allowable percentage increase for Charlotte was less than 1.5 percent, despite increases in salaries of 3 percent and increases in health care insurance premiums of 7.9 percent.
In this challenging environment, the board asked the new administrators, Barbara Anne Komons-Montroll and Stephanie Sumner, to present reductions in spending of $345,366 at its meeting on December 15, 2015. This would be coupled with a transfer of a portion of the general fund balance that the board deemed was more than necessary to retain as a rainy day fund for unanticipated large expenses. At that meeting the board learned that, based on revised calculations by the state, additional cuts of $120,000 to $170,000 would be needed to avoid the penalty.
The administrators were creative, thoughtful and thorough in examining every line item of the CCS budget. They began the process by determining priorities to ensure we continue to provide our students with a high quality education, including:
– further growing capacity at CCS to meet the learning needs of all students,
– maintaining class sizes to optimize student learning and relationships among students and teachers,
– making budget cuts in a manner that minimizes the impact on student learning opportunities,
– creatively expanding some roles to maximize cost efficiency while maintaining effectiveness,
– taking into consideration programming, infrastructure, modern educational practices, enrollment trends, budget forums and school board meeting input, and education quality standards.
The largest cuts, totaling over $320,000, proposed on January 5 were in staffing. These included partial reductions in time commitment of the student assistance counselor, behavior systems and response coordinator, technology education integrationist; of Spanish, art, physical education, general music, health and early literacy intervention personnel; of the office staff, baseball coach, custodial staff and maintenance director. Administrators proposed eliminating two full-time regular education para-educators and deploying a primary grades teacher, no longer needed in a classroom due to declining enrollment, to provide targeted help for struggling students and enrichment for other students. The proposal included the elimination of the assistant cross-country coach, softball coach and library para-educator. As a general principle, the responsibilities of positions being reduced will be absorbed by other faculty and staff. Volunteers will be recruited to assist in roles such as helping in the library and with co-curricular programs such as the geo bee and spelling bee.
The board informally approved a flat tax-rate budget at its January 5 meeting. Ms. Komons-Montroll was asked to present a budget on January 19 that, after incorporating any additional changes in calculations by the state, reflected a flat rate . At that time, she was able to reinstate a few partial positions, such as technical integrationist, nurse, health education and behavior specialists. She will have a complete accounting of the reduced positions well in advance of the budget presentation the night before Town Meeting Day. The updated information will be posted soon on the CCS website. Early versions of Ms. Komons-Montroll’s presentations have been posted for the public.
The board is very pleased to be able to present a budget that keeps school taxes flat for the coming year, while preserving important programs and personnel at CCS. Our thanks to our fabulous new administrators, the supervisory union and our budget buddies Debbie Deale, Judy Buxton and Andrew Haigney, and to the Charlotte residents who attended budget forums and meetings to provide input.