School Committee Looks at FY2013 Budget Priorities as Vote Draws Closer
The committee also decided to keep Braintree out of the School Choice program on Monday night.
Middle and high school students in Braintree sometimes receive photocopies of certain books rather than hard copies, and will again next year, the result of lean budgeting.
On the plus side, students can take notes amid the text, and in the case of older works in the public domain, teachers can avoid purchase costs altogether. But the annual photocopying and the labor it requires is not free, nor is it educators' preferred medium, English director Rebecca Fredericks said during the School Committee's hearing on the proposed fiscal year 2013 budget on Monday night.
"I wouldn't say that we want it to be normal practice," Fredericks said. "I'd rather they have a book and use Post-it notes."
Fredericks estimated that it would cost roughly $4,200 to provide to eighth graders books on abolitionist Frederick Douglass rather than copies, at a per book price of a little less than $10. The choice between photocopies and books is one small example of the kind of prioritizing that has gone into Braintree school budgets in the past and is again this spring as local officials combat a drop-off in federal funds and determine how much additional funding the department will be able to realize next year.
Superintendent Dr. Peter Kurzberg has proposed a $3.1 million, level-service increase, with most of that coming in the form of contractually-obligated raises and other pay hikes. That would put the budget that starts July 1 at $52.4 million, a 6.4 percent uptick over the current fiscal year.
The hearing at Liberty Elementary School on Monday was part of a process to "identify the priorities, guidelines and assumptions" that will form a final draft, Dr. Kurzberg said. Committee members are scheduled to vote on April 9, sending the budget to the mayor's office and eventually to a final decision by the Town Council.
Aside from pay increases, other large areas of proposed additional spending include more than $500,000 for teacher salaries that had been covered by a federal jobs grant and $200,000 for textbooks and instructional materials that had been paid for by the Obama administration's stimulus package.
The department is expected to save nearly $170,000 this coming fiscal year on utility costs, in part because of mild weather and also because new windows and other renovations at several schools should have made them more energy efficient, Dr. Kurzberg said. Also, taking over the operation of a BHS special education, language-based program from a collaborative that has been running it should mean savings amounting to $57,000.
These numbers are not final, though, and the committee may need to find further ways to trim the proposed increase, depending on activity at the state level. Gov. Deval Patrick's initial budget includes a Chapter 70 increase that could mean an extra $1 million or so for Braintree, along with level funding for the special education circuit breaker account. House and Senate members will weigh in with their own plans over the next few months. Mayor Joseph Sullivan will file the entire town's budget, which last year amounted to $96.16 million, with the Town Council by May 1.
Sullivan said that it has taken through July and August the past two years, even after state and local lawmakers vote on their budgets, to settle on a final number for the schools because of extra, end-of-year financial calculations that occur on Beacon Hill, and he expects the same this year.
"We're still crunching the numbers," Sullivan said. "I think we're getting closer to a number."
As it has since the program was introduced statewide in 1993, the Braintree School Committee on Monday night decided against participating in School Choice, which allows students to seek education outside of their home district.
Braintree Public Schools routinely opts out, Dr. Kurzberg said, because the town already has limited educational space and, more philosophically, the program "disproportionately takes resources from communities who cannot afford to lose resources."
"It just seems to not be congruent with the goal" of equal education, the superintendent added.
Students from Braintree may still leave for other communities that are accepting out-of-towners. During the 2010-2011 school year, 12 Braintree kids used the program.
Once a child is accepted into another district, according to the state, he or she is entitled to attend until graduation without reapplying. Transportation is not provided. Additional out-of-town educational programs include charter, vocational and private schooling.
Districts that decide to allow in students can set which grades they will let open. They earn thousands of dollars for each student from that student's home district. In this way, school budgets can go up or down hundreds of thousands of dollars depending on how many students decide to come in or leave.