FY22 Budget Development – Context:

The world as we know it changed early on in 2020 with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, just as we were finishing the development of the FY21 budget. As the virus developed and spread, all our lives grew more impacted with each day that passed. Schools across the state closed down on March 13, 2020 with the anticipation of reopening weeks later. However, that never happened, and the presumed brief hiatus of in-person learning ultimately morphed into a closure for the balance of the 2019/2020 school year. 

With the pandemic continuing to wreak havoc locally and across our country, the reopening of schools for the 2020/2021 school year has been incredibly challenging for everyone. The process and learning model was expected to be required and consistent across the state, but that decision was shifted to a local control option over the summer.  As a result, the burden of planning and provisioning for our reopening fell entirely on local resources. Countless hours of planning, meeting, adjusting, and fine-tuning was completed by district staff and School Committee members over the summer and early fall. However, as the uncertain nature of this virus lingers, we have experienced a continued shifting between fully remote learning and partial in-person learning as we attempt to balance safety with providing for the needs of all students. 

It is in that context that we begin the development of the Fiscal Year 2022 budget, with the consistent level of uncertainty the only constant as we attempt to proactively plan and provision for the balance of the current year and ensure we account for the impacts that may linger into FY22. Overall we have seen a reduction in student enrollment as families have chosen to home school or transfer to a private school based on our model for this year during the pandemic. While student enrollment has dropped for this year, we have had a significant increase in the need for staffing of a fully “remote academy” option for families who do not feel comfortable and safe with in-person learning for their children. Some of those increased staffing needs were offset by enrollment decreases and allowed for reallocation of existing staff. However, there was far more need than available staff, and the remote academy and other supports needed for challenges brought about by the pandemic have largely been new spending. In addition to added staffing for the current year, there were also significant investments made to improve the safety of our facilities, particularly with regard to indoor air quality in all district buildings. 

As we look to the development of next year’s budget, we continue to live with the challenge of planning with many unknowns. At this point in time we are assuming that September will bring a return to more full in-person learning, likely in a ‘new normal’ with protections like masks and other measures still in place. Based on conversations with those families that unenrolled their children this year, we anticipate the majority of those students will return in September. Further, based on that return to a ‘normal’ schedule for the fall, we anticipate that we will not have a need for fully remote classrooms as we currently have them setup. 

To that end, we are calibrating our assumptions for enrollments and staffing in this budget to where they were prior to the adjustments made for the 2020/2021 school year, and we are proposing a level services budget in that regard. This budget is based on the assumption that our student enrollment returns to pre-COVID levels, that staffing returns to their more traditional roles, and our class sizes balance back to where they were assumed to be for the 2020/2021 year. However, we still need to remain agile and ready to react to the facts as they emerge with the trajectory of the pandemic this spring and summer, so we also need to plan for continued uncertainty as we finish this year and look to next. To that end, we will rely on Federal COVID relief funding to offset those unknowns in both the current year and into next. 

We have received several new Federal COVID relief grants in the current year, but added costs for safety, mitigation, and staffing as noted above for the current school year have largely consumed those funds. The newest round of funding that was approved in December has not yet been confirmed in regards to exact district amounts, but it is anticipated to be roughly $800,000. The detail below outlines the expended or anticipated expenditures for each of the various Federal relief grants in both FY21 and FY22. For any funds not expended in FY21, the anticipated carry forward into FY22 is noted, whether as an assumed offset to specific costs, or to be used as a source to mitigate further unknowns both in this and in the coming year. 

Grant Funding Confirmed and/or Projected Use
Remote Learning Technology Essentials Funding $105,096 This competitive grant award was used to offset the first of four lease payments for new student Chromebooks to achieve a 1:1 ratio for all students. This grant was fully utilized in FY21.
CARES Act – ESSER $215,388 This grant award has been earmarked for two different purposes, with half budgeted to be used in FY22 for the second of four lease payments on student Chromebooks to achieve a 1:1 ratio for all students.  The balance will be used in FY22 to offset an increase in pandemic related out of district special education tuition costs.
CvRF – Covid Relief Funding $502,425 This grant will be fully utilized in FY21 on costs incurred as a direct result of the COVID pandemic.  $160,000 was allocated to remote technology and instruction, $125,000 towards special education services, and $217,000 towards ensuring that our school buildings are safe environments for our students and staff.
CARES Act II – ESSER II $800,000 This grant award is anticipated in FY21 as a result of the COVID Relief legislation approved at a federal level in December 2020.  The District will utilize these funds to continue responding to needs arising as a result of the COVID pandemic.  The District is awaiting an official allocation from DESE, but current indications suggest the award will be approximately $800,000.

Process: FY22 Budget Development Format:

Given the atypical context under which we are developing the budget for next year, we agreed a commensurately different approach on the process was warranted. We normally involve each Principal and School Council Co-Chair by having them make presentations directly to the Committee on the specific needs for their school. That is followed by each district administrator providing a proposal that outlines the needs for their domain or department with a district wide perspective. The final piece to that puzzle is a proposal of the regular cost of doing business to bring our current services into the new year, often referred to as the costs associated with a level services budget.  That process will be condensed this year.

The approval process from last year is important context in the development of next year’s budget. The formal approval of this year’s budget was delayed last spring to June because of the pandemic causing town meetings not being able to convene as they normally would. In working with our towns between March and June, they confirmed their continued support of this current year’s budget, even with the proposed significant increases and in light of the challenges the pandemic was creating. It was clear through our discussions that while they supported our FY21 spending plan, they anticipated considerable funding challenges that would emerge in Fiscal Year 2022. With that process fresh in our memory, and with those challenges now having become a reality, we have set our sights on prioritizing a budget request that is primarily based upon the fixed increases needed for a level services budget in FY22, while only proposing new spending in areas of key district-wide, strategic need. 

This decision was not made lightly and was confirmed after careful consideration of all the various inputs that contribute to realizing an accurate and appropriate budget. As we have been discussing and lamenting for many years, the failure of the state to adequately fund education in the Commonwealth and in our district has created many areas of need. Those needs have been discussed each year, including staffing and programs that address the existing academic and social/emotional challenges our students are presenting, as well as innovative new programs and opportunities that will advance our students’ success. The decision to streamline the process and not talk about those needs this year was not done to ignore or deny their importance, but in an attempt to respond to the overwhelming financial challenges our towns and communities are facing because of this pandemic. We need to get back to talking about innovation and improvement, and we will in future years, but in the short term we need to be responsive to the extraordinary circumstances we are all working and living under. 

To condense the process, we have combined the first two steps of the budget development this year, incorporating the initial presentations (usually 2-4 meetings) and the weekend Committee workshop into a single workshop. This document will provide the basis of the discussion for that meeting, reviewing all current spending along with those areas we are proposing strategic new spending. For any new spending being proposed, it is done with an understanding of the impact but a sense of urgency with the needs outlined. 

Unless otherwise noted below, all spending and budget lines are assumed to be level-funded to FY21 levels for the coming year. This is true for all school based budgets, as well as all district-wide spending in the areas of Curriculum & Instruction, Technology, Athletics, Facilities Operations, and Special Education. The primary cost increases for each year across all schools and departments are personnel costs, and those are represented in the aggregate as total district increases below. Line by line detail for expenditures assumed in all school and district-wide supplies, materials, and contracted services lines are not included in this presentation in an effort to streamline the process, especially since they are proposed to be level-funded unless noted below. However, that level of detail for costs that contribute to all lines is contained in FY21 proposals and can be found on our website at http://bit.ly/36aJLJn

The full initial budget request can be viewed by clicking the “Budget Requests” tab above.