Newton Superintendent: No Cuts in FY '13 Budget, Some Programs Restored
Roughly 1 percent of the budget increase this year will handle the district's enrollment increase.
After facing a tough budget season last year, Newton Superintendent David Fleishman said Monday he feels "pretty good" about this year's school budget numbers.
The superintendent's proposed $178.8 million fiscal 2013 budget does not include any teacher cuts and will restore some programs including mental health support and fourth grade chorus.
"I think last year really took a lot out of people," Fleishman said in a meeting with local reporters Monday afternoon. "I think this budget allows us to get better."
The fiscal 2013 budget will increase 4.1 percent from last year, or roughly $7 million. Approximately $1.7 million of that increase is set aside to handle an additional 192 students in the 2012-2013 school year, Fleishman said.
Last year, the district faced a significant budget gap due to a decrease in state and federal funding as well as increases to health care costs and employee salaries. At the end of the budget process, a number of high school positions were cut in addition to several arts and language programs.
But this year, Fleishman said employee benefits will not increase at all, thanks to new union contracts with school employees.
"That really tells a big story," Fleishman said.
One other important factor, Fleishman said, is that Gov. Deval Patrick has allocated a record-high amount of state aid to local schools. According to the governor's fiscal 2013 budget, this will mean an additional $2.6 million in Chapter 70 reimbursement for Newton.
The Cost of increased enrollment and restored investments
Fleishman explained Monday that the biggest cost driver for the fiscal 2013 budget was the student enrollment increase. With a projected 192 students next year, the district had to provide additional teaching staff to accommodate those students and keep class sizes low.
"Our biggest challenge as a city is [the enrollment increase]," Fleishman said, adding that the district's "first priority" was staffing for new kids.
By next school year, Newton will have more than 12,000 students, Fleishman said.
But with $1.7 million needed to cover the added students, the district had to be selective with what programs it restored or improved.
Some of the programs and services brought back in this year's budget include mental health positions that were cut a few years back. Starting next year, every school in the district will have a full-time mental health staff member.
"The events over the last six weeks, the crisis in Newton, has really crystallized the need for mental health staff," Fleishman said at his budget presentation to School Committee members Monday night, referencing the arrest and allegations against former Newton teacher David Ettlinger.
In addition, the budget plans for more middle-school based special needs programs that will help keep more special needs students in the district, rather than paying tuition for outside programs.
Health care savings help technology, facility investments
The restructured contracts have played a big part in this year's budget, Fleishman said. The zero percent increase in benefit costs is a big change from last year's $2 million increase, or the $4 million increase in fiscal 2009.
Some of those health care savings have already been put to use; roughly $750,000 in health care savings will cover a feasibility study for the rebuilding of Angier Elementary School.
Another $250,000, Fleishman said, will be used as a one-time investment in technology and cover items such as the language lab at Newton South and technology improvements in the middle schools.
The district has also managed to keep utility costs from going up by using sustainable and energy-efficient practices at its schools, Fleishman said. For example, the district has switched several schools from oil to natural gas heat.
Fleishman said Monday that the district looked into funding full-day kindergarten in the fiscal 2013 budget, a big topic brought up during the 2012 municipal elections.
However, at roughly $1.2 million, Fleishman said the administration determined that costs for full-day kindergarten were too much to tackle.
"Instead, we’re investing in other ways through early literature [and] mental health support at elementary schools," Fleishman said. "It was really a budget issue and to do it the way the task force wanted us to do it would be too much."