Wareham Public School officials: lean budget may bring staff cuts

Dec 7, 2017

Wareham Public Schools officials say staff cuts might be necessary as they consider a fiscal year 2019 budget challenged by a paltry increase in town revenue.

Building the budget has “proven to be very difficult as the divide between our students and available resources continues to widen,” said Superintendent Kimberly Shaver-Hood on Wednesday night. She spoke at a joint public hearing between the School and Finance Committees where two Selectmen and Town Administrator Derek Sullivan were present as well.

Shaver-Hood and Wareham Public Schools Business Administrator Michael McMillan presented a budget of $29,413,679, which is up $1,033,576 (3.6 percent) compared to the previous fiscal year.

Major drivers of the increase include contractually obligated staff raises, tuition for special education students that must be sent out of the district for services and transportation costs.

McMillan said to build that budget officials examined every line item to keep the increase minimal. However, “the reality is a large chunk of that will come from a reduction in positions,” he said. It’s unclear how many staff positions may be cut, but McMillan said officials are hopeful some will come from retirements.

Officials are also looking at reducing the transportation budget by $200,000. That will likely be done through changing bus routes to improve efficiency and partnering with the town to identify areas where costs can be reduced, he said.

Selectmen Chair Peter Teitelbaum said all town departments must deal with a difficult budget season. Each department head was told to develop a level service budget compared to last year. He said many department heads balked at the request, but the town is facing a stark fiscal reality.

“We expect a minimal increase in revenue,” said Teitelbaum. “Well below one percent of the overall budget.”

At a previous budget hearing, Selectman Alan Slavin said current estimates put increased revenue at approximately $56,000.

Despite that, Teitelbaum said town and school officials are committed to working together.

“Once again, we see what we need, we see what we don’t have and we will have to engage in the process of whittling,” said Teitelbaum. “It’s regrettable.”

The budget isn’t finalized yet and will likely be approved by the School Committee at its Dec. 20 meeting, set for 7 p.m. in the Wareham Middle School auditorium. After that vote the budget will go before Selectmen for review. Ultimately, the school budget must be approved by voters at the Spring Town Meeting.