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Hingham schools trim budget request by $255,000

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  February 25, 2014 03:46 PM

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Hingham school officials say that even after shaving a quarter-million dollars off the proposed budget for next fiscal year, they may be asked to cut more.

School Committee members voted on the reduced budget at their meeting Monday night, bringing the proposed budget from $43.89 million to $43.64 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

While the proposed number is still higher than intended - officials say they were aiming at a 4 percent budget increase rather than 4.3 percent over the fiscal 2014 budget - officials say the proposal is an improvement.

“We’re not insensitive to the concerns of folks [about] increased budgets. We certainly understand the need to prioritize and we think we’ve done that,” said School Committee Chairman Ray Estes. “What we’ve presented and voted on is a responsible budget.”

The Advisory Committee will look at the budget along with selectmen and vote on the proposal in upcoming weeks. Estes said there is a possibility that school officials will be asked to reduce the numbers further.

“It depends how the numbers fall with the rest of the budgets,” he said.

Estes said cuts to the proposed budget came in the form of personnel changes – factoring in new extended leaves of absence, retirements, and resignations.

Better pricing through the South Shore Collaborative on natural gas pricing, changes to a fire alarm-monitoring program that the town has delayed a year, and revenues from revolving accounts also helped offset some newly proposed increases.

New staffing needs were also prioritized. High school clubs that were not well established weren’t given requested advisory stipends, and half of a kindergarten position was left unfunded under the assumption that the attendance numbers won’t require it.

A new maintenance position was left off the table as well.

The budget retains many newer additions, including teachers, councilors, and support staff; increased support hours for language labs and tutor hours; more technology professional development; and more custodians to deal with the new Middle School.

Though those positions have not been funded in previous budgets, Estes said they should not be considered new initiatives.

“It may be justified – increase enrollment, increased demographics, the varied needs of kids. In order to keep up with that, sometimes you need to add staffing,” Estes said. “But we still ultimately voted last night [a budget that] was over a quarter-million reduced from what had been proposed just two weeks ago.”

Members initially anticipated a lower budget number by cutting some new adjustment councilor positions, but decided against it during their Monday meeting.

In 2009, each of the four elementary schools had an adjustment councilor, but budgetary problems forced the school to cut two of the positions.

Estes said the need for the councilors has only increased since then, not only due to an increase in student enrollment, but also an increase of students requiring services and a greater complexity to emotional and social issues facing students.

“We find ourselves not able to keep up with the level of services we think these kids need,” Estes said. “Last night at our meeting, one of our adjustment councilors made an impassioned plea, and it was well received.”

Estes said in its totality, the budget is “needs-based,” and looked at areas of enrollment, student services, and building and maintenance needs.

The budget increase would be greater than this year -- the budget went up 3.13 percent from fiscal 2013 to fiscal 2014.

Though the budgetary increase may be higher than last year and higher than other departments, Estes said the School Department should be looked at and handled differently. Administrators oversee thousands of employees and students, 10 buildings, a fleet of trucks and buses, and utility costs.

“We’ve tried to get folks to look at us differently and understand the complexity in our budget,” Estes said.

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