This month, Braintree Public Schools department heads have presented budget requests to the School Committee, urging members to add educators, buy new textbooks and provide students more classroom space and smaller class sizes.
However, only one presentation brought school officials and parents to their feet.
An a cappella rendition of the spiritual “Ain't Got Time to Die“ by Braintree High School concert choir members temporarily broke up the subdued atmosphere Monday night in the BHS auditorium, earning a round of applause in between science, art, math and foreign language presentations.
“As they say, the proof is in the pudding,” music director Rachel Hallenbeck said following the performance.
Hallenbeck said she had the students sing a song from their recent trip to the state music festival, where several Braintree singers were selected for an ensemble choir, to demonstrate the quality of instruction in the school system despite the challenges of a tight budget. Soloist Liam McGuire also received national recognition for his talents.
Department heads are proposing a wide range of additions to their programs for the fiscal year that begins in July, from new teachers to replacement textbooks and other supplies. Many of the requests will find their way into the budget that Superintendent Dr. Kurzberg will present to the School Committee and then Town Council later this year.
But, like every year, many will not. Last year, Braintree saw the largest school budget increase in a decade. Yet the $2.4 million uptick could not pay for everything requested by the department heads, and school officials work throughout the year to prioritize funding proposals.
Mayor Joseph Sullivan, sticking with the musical theme Monday night, paraphrased song lyrics by The Rolling Stones, asking jokingly if the concert singers could perform the tune.
“You can’t always get what you want," Mick Jagger sings, "but if you try sometimes, well you might find you get what you need."
On a more serious note, Sullivan said that the committee must balance the needs of the school department, as well as the town’s other operations, while also keeping in mind general space needs, increased demand for full-day kindergarten, possible funding from the Massachusetts School Building Authority and what will be provided by the governor’s budget.
"We do have other needs in town and as mayor I need to balance those needs," he said.
Many of the requests are simply an effort to return to previous staffing levels and keep up with ongoing technology needs.
For instance, since Hallenbeck joined the school system, the music department has lost several positions, she said, and needs an infusion of educators “so the programs can continue to thrive.”
Despite the loss of instructors, the high school’s ensembles have grown substantially, doubling in some cases. Music class sizes at the middle school level are in the 30s and 40s, and each year some 100 students are turned away from music programs at BHS and sit in study halls instead, Hallenbeck said.
“I know we do the best we can with the money allotted to the school system,” Committee member Pam Kiley said. “I think we spend our money wisely.”
Still, the district is underfunded compared to the state average, Kiley said, calling on residents to consider ways to help boost school funding.