Bolstered by priorities the Regional School Committee has chiseled finely over the past few months, Superintendent of Schools Charles Gobron unveiled to them a preliminary Algonquin budget for FY2014.
The budget, at $19,418,584, shows an increase of 4.82 percent over FY2013, which was $18,525,416. That translates into an increase of $893,168.
"There are increases and decreases in this budget," said Gobron.
With proposed increases totaling $1,239,035, this includes hiring a full-time math teacher, guidance counselor and physical education instructor, and also a part-time business teacher. Noting "related benefits" (which means health insurance costs, even for retirees), that increase accounts for $295,805 in the budget.
Through collective bargaining, teachers negotiated what translated into a 3.8 increase (some receive less, depending on their standing), adding $331,770 to the budget.
Gobron noted other costs, including instructional supplies, heating, electricity, payments to charter schools and retirement.
The superintendent said it was time to "toot our own horn" on particular decreases that helped keep the budget from bubbling over this year. He pointed to a savings of $98,480 from last year as a result of negotiating health insurance costs with teachers.
"We have reaped the benefits from negotiations, where teachers will pay a larger share," said Gobron. "Also, for those who have turned 65, they are now Medicare eligible, which saves the district money."
Other savings were related to special needs tuition and transportation costs. Unemployment benefits were reduced by nearly $16,000.
Decreases from FY2013 totaled $346,441.
The preliminary budget calls for no staff deductions, though Gobron said he anticipates some retirements, as well as leave of absences.
Many school committee members voiced concern over the increasing enrollment numbers, with a slower growing teacher base. Gobron acknowledged the concern, and pointed to the call for four new staff members.
"What I see is that kids suffer when they need the extra attention and help because they aren’t getting their particular questions answered in the one hour after school sessions," said committee member Lynne Winter. "That’s one area that I’ve noticed over the past. Ever since we’ve had these cuts, we’ve started to hear that more parents are noticing, and a lot of times the parents don’t notice it initially. It is time that we start to address these issues, we’re reaching that point of that 1,500 number we talked about, and we need to start get back to our class size policy."
A snapshot of enrollment versus staff size: In FY05, there were 79.9 fulltime teachers and 1,279 students; FY08 97.6 fulltime teachers and 1,422 students; and FY12 93.2 fulltime teachers and 1,482 students. NESDEC predicts an enrollment of 1,507 for FY2014. If the budget passes as such, the students would be paired with 96.7 fulltime teachers.
It’s not just that it’s going up by 100 students in a year," said committee member Steve Butka. "It’s gone up 60 in the last two years. We were surprised, and we have another surprise coming. At some point in time you do hit that tipping point where you need to have to get back to those levels. I have received calls from parents and I never had gotten these calls before."
Conversely, Southborough Selectman Daniel Kolenda questioned the hires "at a time when other districts are cutting."
Gobron, supported by subcommittee members who had worked on the budget, remained steadfast that the quality of the school system must not only remain intact, but progress.
"This is such an incredible high school," said Gobron, "but we have to address some of our concerns to keep it the excellent school that it is."
Increased government mandates compounded with a decrease in state and federal grants and funds, add to the budget challenges.
"This is the first budget in several years that addresses postponed needs," said Gobron. "We have postponed a number of things."
Since state funding figures aren't available yet, nor are assessment values (which determines the amount Northborough and Southborough pays), there are still unknown line items in the budget. Therefore, it will not go up for an official vote until February.