FRAMINGHAM – Framingham Public Schools will be requesting a 4.5 percent budget increase, when they go before Framingham Town Meeting this spring.
Town of Framingham Chief Financial Officer MaryEllen Kelley proposed the 4.5 percent increase,and former Interim Superintendent Ed Gotgart said he accepted the request in putting together the budget proposal for the 2017-18 school year.
Gotgart has returned to his position as Chief Operating Officer for the Framingham Public Schools with the hiring of Robert Tremblay as superintendent.
Framingham Public Schools is proposing a $128 million budget for the fiscal year, that starts on July 1.
“Mary Ellen was very generous,” said Gotgart at the budget hearing with the School Committee Tuesday night. He said the 4.5 percent increase allows for a level-services budget for the Framingham Public Schools.
“We can’t add new programs, but we will not cut services,” said Gotgart.
The Framingham School Committee will hold its second of two public hearings on the proposed 2017-18 school year budget tonight, April 13, at 7 at King Elementary School.
The 7-member elected School Committee is expected to vote on a budget on Monday after school vacation week, the day before Annual Town Meeting begins.
Over the past five years (FY13-17), the Town has been very supportive of the school budget adding almost $30 million to our budget, from $92 million to $122 million, an average annual increase of 5.9 percent, explained Gotgart.
“This significant investment in our schools has resulted in the addition of 223 new positions, with 124 (55 percent) of those being teachers and 51 (23 percent) being teacher aides/assistants,” said Gotgart.
During this same time, our district’s enrollment (based on October 1 enrollment data has increased from 8,433 (October 2012) to 8,890 (October 2016), an increase of 457 students or 5.4 percent, explained Gotgart.
“As we look ahead to building our FY18 budget, we must not expect these same levels of financial increases to continue as they are simply not sustainable given the Town’s financial projections,” said Gotgart.
“Our enrollment is projected to continue increasing, but at a modest 1.24 percent annual increase (around 110 students per year),” said Gotgart. “Thus, we will be challenged to use our existing resources as wisely and effectively as we can and not rely upon large budget increases as we have in the past.”
Gotgart said a vast majority of the district proposed $128 million budget is salaries. He said about 75 percent of those salaries are dictated by collective bargaining agreements, which include COLA and step increases. Salaries represent about $93.3 million of the proposed 2017-18 school year budget.
Of the budget increase of $5.5 million, more than $3 million will go towards the collective bargaining agreements said Gotgart.
The school department will add additional staff at two schools, despite the level-services budget.
King Elementary will be adding staff to add third grade classrooms to the school. The current K-grade 2 school will go to K-grade 3 starting in August.
And a second assistant principal will be added at Barbieri Elementary, the district’s two-way bilingual school. Gotgart said the school has about 700 students and needs a second assistant principal, even though the other elementary schools all have just one assistant principal.
Gotgart said he knew when the CFO suggested a 4.5 percent increase for the Framingham Public Schools budget, it would be a level services budget so he did not make the building principals go through an elaborate budget process.
“You got what you got,” said Gotgart. “You are going to have to make it work.”
Gotgart said each year presents the district with “greater needs and greater challenges.”
The single most challenging aspect to building our fiscal year 2018 budget is our enrollment, said Gotgart.
Since 2007, Framingham’s pre-K to grade 12 enrollment has been steadily increasing. In 2007, it was 8,038 students. This school year, it is 8,478. That is an increase of 440 students – and for some districts an entire school.
Another increase in the budget is special education costs, especially out of district placements. For example, some Framingham students attend the Learning Center for the Deaf, The Perkins School for the Blind or the New England Center for Children. Framingham Public Schools pays the tuition.
“As we look to the future, we believe that our best hope to “control” special education costs rests with the need for additional space in our schools for program development and placement, but also with our continuing effort to not “over-identify” students who may not need special education services and support. This latter challenge will require the district to develop strong and effective measures at the regular education classroom level to serve students who may appear to need special education, but really need effective interventions and social-emotional supports to remain successful in their regular education classrooms,” states the district in its 150-page budget document.
Gotgart said he has been working with Superintendent Tremblay on the budget.
“We have been able to work with our new Superintendent to review the structure of the Central Office of the district and we will be implementing changes to improve our efficiency and effectiveness as a Central Office, but also redirecting some of our resources out to our schools where they are most needed and will do the most good,” sad Gotgart.
The new budget document was inspired by Framingham School Committee member Rick Finlay, said Gotgart. Finlay who works for the Town of Wellesley showed Gotgart what Wellesley Public Schools produces each year, and Gotgart recreated his own version this year.
The goal is for the budget and the process to be more transparent to parents, staff, and taxpayers.