PAWTUCKET — While noting there are a lot of variables — chief among them being the governor's proposed meals tax increase — School Department officials are expressing a cautious optimism about the school budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
At Wednesday's School Committee meeting, Business Manager Thomas Conlon presented an early budget overview that gives a favorable forecast for fiscal year 2013 that begins on July 1. Conlon said that thanks to an anticipated increase in revenue, primarily from the state, Pawtucket should have a surplus of approximately $3.4 million in its operating budget.
Conlon told the school board that Pawtucket is slated to receive an increase in state aid totaling $6.8 million. Of this amount, $2.8 million is expected to come from the restoration of federal jobs fund money, about $1.3 million will be from an accelerated use of the new education funding formula, and another $2.6 million will be from the education funding formula that is earmarked for “year two.”
Additionally, the school budget is due to receive an increase of almost $1 million from the city under the “maintenance of effort” that is part of a five-year deficit reduction plan.
At the same time, Conlon, said, there is an anticipated decrease in local revenue of $139,148, due to a drop of $87,717 in anticipated Medicaid revenue and a decrease of $51,431 in anticipated tuition for out-of-district students attending the Jacqueline M. Walsh School for the Performing and Visual Arts and summer school programs, where the “host” community of the student picks up the tab.
When all this is calculated, Conlon said, the result is a total net increase for FY13 of approximately $7.6 million in revenue over the amount of revenue received in the current fiscal year (FY12).
On the expenditures side, Conlon said there are about $869,979 in net contractual increases for the salaries and benefits of certified (union) employees, and $559,594 in net contractual increases for salaries and benefits of non-certified (non-union) personnel, totaling approximately $1.4 million. He noted that the biggest relief in this category resulted from pension reform, which allowed for a decrease in costs for union personnel of $574,217 instead of an increase of almost $3 million under the previous pension requirements.
Conlon also outlined anticipated expenditures to the school budget totaling $1.6 million that come from a wide variety of non-contractual increases. These include forecasts that range from an additional $77,365 expected to be needed for substitute teachers and $73,704 for utilities (both based on FY12 projections), $58,806 in extra transportation expenses (based on a state bid increase), and smaller expected increases such as $19,532 in legal fees, $14,906 in Workman's Compensation insurance and $10,001 in special education support services.
Among the largest of these are $357,254 in charter school tuitions that mostly stem from an increase in the population attending the Mayoral Academy, and $344,447 in state school tuition as part of the education funding formula for Pawtucket students attending the Davies Vocational and Technical High School and The Met School.
Also significant was the budgeting of an additional $146,261 for Special Education outplacement costs. Conlon said that while the number of Special Education students receiving outplacement services has dropped due to more services being provided in-house, the cost of these services is expected to increase by about three percent in the coming year.
Conlon added that he also cut in half the amount that had previously been budgeted for “unidentified cuts” from $1.5 million in FY12 to $771,044 for FY13, and planned to take no money from the medical reserves account for FY13, as opposed to FY12 where $770,368 had been used from that account to help balance the budget. All told, that leaves the net gross surplus for FY13 at $3.4 million.
Conlon added, however, that he will be adjusting the FY13 budget in the fall as he typically does once the figures for state aid, student enrollment, and other key factors are finalized.
Schools Supt. Deborah Cylke also cautioned that while there is seemingly good news about the school budget, much depends on the final state budget figures. She said that a rejection of the meals tax proposal alone could mean a loss of some $1.2 million in state aid that is being anticipated from the accelerated funding formula. She added that the state budget isn't expected to be finalized until around June 30. However, she said that it at least appears as if the school budget situation for FY13 is not as dire as it was for FY12, and is not in a position to repeat a deficit.
Cylke told the committee that if, indeed, there is a $3.4 million surplus to work with, it will allow school officials to do some things they have been wanting to do for several years. To that end, she said these desired additions have been added to the preliminary budget for FY13.
Included in the budget are $155,575 for an elementary school performance officer and $154,051 for a secondary/Transformation school performance officer, $816,350 for the restoration of 10 teachers due to the “Transformation” scheduling changes needed to address the Shea and Tolman High School improvement plans.
Cylke also said she wants to do technology upgrades at the high school and beef up the elementary mobile computer laboratories for $204,000 and hire an Information Technology technician for $72,084 to oversee the labs. She also would like to increase the substitute teacher rate to $100 per day to attract more candidates, add 20 days to both the high school principals' and assistant principals' work year, for $31,450 and $28,350 respectively, and to increase the school clerks' work year by six days.
Additionally, the superintendent expressed the need for spending an additional $44,279 to increase salaries due to a reorganization of duties for some individuals, and $24,741 for additional professional development center training for 400 elementary school teachers.
The school budget will also include $146,153 in increased costs for personnel to provide increased supervision for an additional 20 minutes before and after school at all of the city's schools. Based on complaints from some parents of elementary school students, Cylke came up with a recommendation for more supervision at Tuesday night's School Committee meeting which was later approved by the committee.
School Committee Chairman Alan Tenreiro suggested that if there is a surplus, perhaps the School Department should set aside some money as a “contingency fund” for unanticipated emergencies and expenses. As an example, he noted that last winter's harsh weather caused money to be spent on hiring workers to shovel accumulated snow and ice off several school roofs as a public safety measure.
Lastly, Cylke announced that a school budget session, during which the public could provide input on the budget, would be scheduled sometime next month, prior to the next regular School Committee meeting on April 10.