Wednesday, May 17th:
Last night, the School Committee approved an adjustment to the FY19 finalized budget of $664,396. As all are now well aware, this was the result of the Committee’s original spending plan from March 14th failing to gain the approval of our member towns. The attached document outlines the reductions in spending, along with the assumption of additional state revenues of $175,000 to arrive at the budget adjustment noted above. The bulk of spending reductions come from the cut of a half time custodian from each school, as well as 14 Instructional Assistants across all 5 schools. As described and discussed last night, this has been a balancing act of minimizing impact, not avoiding it. With the pattern of reductions over recent years, we are well beyond the ability to make reductions that don’t impact the educational experience for our students. I certainly can’t capture the reasoning and discussion behind the reductions briefly in writing, so I would encourage you to view the video of last night’s meeting, which can be viewed on the School Committee YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCuKUrgOC4_i-PKoOmHT3JhA. The live video from last night is currently being edited and cleaned up and will be posted back online by Friday morning, May 18th at the latest.
The document linked below includes three pages of information. The first page contains reductions that I recommended and were approved by the School Committee last night in the top box shaded in yellow. The bottom box details additional reductions that have been discussed and reviewed in detail, but cuts that were not recommended, and not approved in the final spending plan. The revised spending plan included the changes in the top box only, totalling $664,396.
Document: FY2019 Budget Update – May 16, 2018
Next steps in the approval process require that our member towns reconvene a special town meeting, which is a town’s “appropriating body”, to approve or disapprove this new spending plan and certified assessment it yields for each town. If a town chooses not to hold a town meeting, it will be a default approval for this new revised budget. Given that Newbury passed the town meeting article and the override, they have approved a higher amount, so don’t need to take any further action as their assessment will now be reduced. Next steps for Rowley and Salisbury have yet to be confirmed.
After initially expressing concern that the proposed cuts as outlined don’t reduce spending enough, Neil Harrington, Town Manager from Salisbury, suggested to the School Committee that he learned a great deal from the discussion last evening. As a result, Neil suggested that perhaps a second opportunity to pass a lower override in Salisbury at a special election is something he’d like to review with the Salisbury Selectmen. As of now, Salisbury has scheduled a special town meeting on Saturday, June 30th at 10:00 AM, while Rowley has yet to confirm a date. There are clearly still details that are yet to be determined, and Mr. Harrington wasn’t committing to any specific course of action, but I appreciate his willingness to reconsider the impact of the cuts we’ve made to date and think outside the box about a way to ensure further reductions beyond what was reluctantly agreed last night are not necessary.
So the message is that we are one step closer to a final spending plan, and we do know the cuts agreed last night will be required. However, there are still details to be clarified before I can give an accurate assessment as to where we will be heading next. Selectmen will be meeting next week in each town, and the District Communications Committee (DCC – School Committee along with officials from each member town) will be meeting next Thursday, May 24th to continue this discussion. We should have further clarity about intended actions and next steps after that meeting, and I will update you as soon as I possibly can.
Wednesday, March 14th:
The School Committee unanimously approved a final budget. See “Final Budget” tab above.
With the passage of the final budget, we now await approval in our member towns. In order for the budget to pass, it must be approved in 2 of 3 member towns. As of this point, we have been told that the final budget assessments will require the approval of an override vote, adding further complexity to the FY19 development process. The link below shows a listing of further reductions being considered to decrease the budget if the final budget is not passed. This is current thinking and not in any way a final listing. With other reductions now realized, the reduction of 23 staff is a more refined, and unfortunately realistic, figure that would become a reality if the override and budget is not passed.
Wednesday, February 14th:
The School Committee approved the FY19 Tentative Budget this evening. The budget represents the ‘high water’ mark, documenting the highest potential level of spending. Following the hearing on February 28th, and deliberation on March 7th, it is anticipated that this number will trend down with potential savings that will be clarified over the coming weeks.
In addition to any savings which allow us to keep level services, the possibility for substantial cuts remains very real. Towns have been very clear in that the only way they can afford this budget is through an override. While they are supportive overall on the potential, they have very realistic concerns that an override will pass, leaving us with requirements to make substantial cuts.
Wednesday, February 7th:
The documents below are PowerPoint slides presented or referenced during the presentation on February 7th. The first is a modified and simplified version of the more extensive presentation provided in February, 2017 that outlined all the contributing factors that got us to this point, showing trends from 2002 to 2017. Questions about why costs are rising while enrollment is dropping have been asked, and last year’s presentation attempted to answer them. In addition, we were approaching the critical crisis point that we’ve further realized this year, as the Chapter 70 formula is not adequate for regional schools. This year’s updated presentation provides a snapshot of the pertinent details on this issue explored in more detail last year. Given the fact that last year’s charts have been recently circulated, the presentation has not been updated to include 2018 to avoid confusion. Information from 2018 does not drastically change the figures, although they have trended further into troubling territory.
Budget documents reviewed on February 7th are the same as linked below for the February 1st DCC meeting.
Thursday, February 1st DCC:
These documents were produced for the District Communications Committee, which is comprised of selectmen, finance committee, town administrators, and schools committee members from all three towns. These two documents further refine the information presented on January 27th. The first document summarizes all the changes that are currently being considered based on the advice of the Committee on January 27th. The second document provides various scenarios for assessments to member towns, and detail at the bottom in regards to general levels of cuts that would be required in order to reach those assessment figures. It is important to note that no specific cuts have been identified, rather we have chosen to show representative levels of cuts needed based on an average salaried employee being cut. As the process continues, more specific cuts will be identified and considered, and more specific information provided.
Saturday, January 27th Budget Workshop:
This document outlines a summary of all requests included in the requests from the schools and departments. These have been prioritized into those which we have no option but to do, down to those that are important but lower priority.
This document illustrates the various assessments that would result based on the options chosen on the request summary. It is important to note that these are VERY preliminary, and are provided to illustrate hypotheticals, not any formally voted spending.
The FY19 Final Operating & Capital Budget been prepared in accordance with the budget development timeline set out in the Regional Agreement with our member communities of Newbury, Rowley and Salisbury. The School Committee held two public hearings on the FY19 Operating Budget, including one earlier than usual given the challenging year on February 8, 2018, and then again on February 28, 2018. The Committee subsequently reviewed the input received through those hearings, measured against the needs of the district overall, and approved this final budget.
The final budget is being presented with the understanding that for the first time in many years, our member towns may not be able to support the spending plan. This budget sets priorities on spending where there is the greatest need, while acknowledging that we do not have the required funding to provide the level of services to our students that we desire to offer and believe they deserve. The district and our member towns need the state to fund their commitments so we can ensure our continued success.
Principal Features of the Proposed Budget
As mentioned above, we again find ourselves in a challenging budget year. This budget provides the following basic changes in services:
- The cost of doing business, including all changes to personnel contracts, benefits, utilities, contracted services, supplies, and materials
- Addition of improvements for student safety, including better access control logging for visitors, and the addition of school site video monitoring at all schools
- Addition of one (1) Special Education Teacher at Pine Grove School
- Addition of one (1) Special Education Teacher at Salisbury Elementary
- Significant increases to the tuitions for Out of District Special Education placements
- Reduction of the District Data Specialist from 1.0 to 0.5 FTE
- Reduction of the District Payroll Clerk from 1.0 to 0.5 FTE
- Reduction of 1.0 Middle School Foreign Language Teacher – Result of Aligned Schedule
- Reduction of 2.6 FTE’s classroom teachers – High School – Due to student enrollment
- Reduction of 1.0 FTE classroom teacher – Newbury Elementary – Due to student enrollment
The fiscal 2019 budget development process has continued the recent trend of trying to provide the best educational experience for our students within a challenging financial landscape for schools across the state, and for regional schools in particular. The Chapter 70 State Aid formula is broken, but a fix will require billions of dollars at the state level to implement. The result is the continued shifting of the burden of funding public education from the state to local towns, requiring us to balance the needs of our students with the financial constraints of our member towns.
This year has been particularly troublesome as we saw increases in the usual fix cost lines of personnel, utilities, and benefits, but those were compounded by much higher than usual costs in our required services for Special Education. This has resulted in a Final Budget that will likely require override votes for our towns to be able to afford the increase. The Committee was presented with a “Plan B” document that provided current thinking about additional cuts that could be required if this budget is not passed, including over 23 faculty and staff.
Born out of the extreme need and circumstances in this year’s budget, a strong voice of advocacy has emerged this year. Starting with a Regional Finance Forum with District State Legislators and the State Auditor, Suzanne Bump, the School Committee has made a concerted effort to place pressure
on the state to fully fund its prior commitments of Regional Transportation Reimbursement, Special Education Circuit Breaker, and hold harmless aid through the Chapter 70 program. Additionally, the Committee has focused on efforts emerging at the state level to more completely and thoroughly study the negative impacts of the Chapter 70 formula on regional schools. There is a growing understanding, first documented in Auditor Bump’s report in October, 2017, that the Chapter 70 formula’s focus on student enrollment as a primary factor in the equation is completely inequitable. There is a long way to go to ensure this message is understood across the state, and in particular with both the State House and Senate Leadership, but we have a stronger voice of advocacy this year than in year’s past. These efforts need to continue now through this budget cycle, and continue beyond any final vote to ensure the progress made to date is not lost as this will be a multi-year battle to achieve success.
This problem is best illustrated in the graph below, showing the portion of our total operating expenses that are funded by Chapter 70 versus the portion funded by the total local assessments provided by our member towns. From 2002 through the 2019 budget as presented here, the state has reduced its share of our spending and is actually contributing less total dollars than they were in 2002.
The result, as shown in the graphic below, is that the town’s portion of the budget has increased from 60% in 2002, to 76% for Fiscal Year 2019. This has been a consistent trend and has been problematic for many years. However, our member towns are now reaching a crisis point in regards to their ability to continue to support the state’s failure to fund our schools. Our member communities have traditionally been supportive of our schools, and that hasn’t changed. However, the cumulative effect of decades of the trend shown below are reaching a crisis point this year that is likely not going away without the state’s assistance.
NOTE: A considerable amount of advocacy has been undertaken this year by the Committee and Administration. That information is being distributed via the News section on the main page, and also via social media. You can follow Friends of Triton and Support MA Regional Schools on Facebook by clicking the links.
The FY19 budget cycle began on Tuesday, January 16, 2018 with presentations by the principals, program managers, and district administrators being made directly to the School Committee. Most building principals has their School Council Co Chair by his/her side, as these budget requests were presented in conjunction with the School Improvement Plans, which outline the goals and objectives for the upcoming year. Meetings were held on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings, January 16th – 18th. Documents from these presentations are available at the links on the tab titled ‘FY19 Requests’ and ‘School Improvement Plans’ above.
The schedule for the School Committee budget development process for fiscal year 2019 is as follows:
- Initial Presentations: Tuesday to Thursday, January 16, 17 and 18th – Start time 6:00 PM
- School Committee Workshop: Saturday, January 27th – Start time 8:00 AM
- School Committee Public Hearing and Deliberation: Thursday, February 8th due to snow
- School Committee Vote: Tentative Budget: Wednesday, February 14th
- School Committee Formal Public Hearing: Wednesday, February 28th
- School Committee Budget Deliberation: Wednesday, March 7th
- School Committee Budget Final Vote: Wednesday, March 14th
All meetings take place in the Triton High School Library, and start at 7:00 PM unless otherwise noted.
Please use the links below to view the Budget Requests for fiscal year 2019.