School budget receives approval from School Committee despite concerns about lack of resources

Dec 21, 2017

The School Committee passed the 2019 school budget of $29,413,679 on Wednesday, up 3.6 percent from last year, with some people concerned about how the funds will be allocated.

The budget includes salary increases of just under $1.4 million, which is based on current staffing with contractual increases, said Wareham Public Schools Business Administrator Michael MacMillan.

There was also a projected increase in out-of-district tuition and an increased transportation cost of $321,927, which MacMillan said will be used to upgrade security cameras on buses and to replace bus radios that do not comply with federal regulations.

The daily rate for substitute teachers went up, which added $96,182 to the budget.Wareham Public Schools struggles to find substitute teachers, MacMillan said, and the current daily rate of $67 may be a factor.

MacMillan  also pointed out the reductions to preliminary budget requests, budget items that were stripped out at the very beginning. These included some capital funding, custodial supplies, $108,333 for instructional supplies and technology and $239,000 for staffing.

MacMillan presented the capital need estimates, one-time purchases that are funded through the town and are not part of the school's budget. Among these were replacing instructional textbooks, technology, HVAC upgrade, purchasing vehicles, repairing and replacing furniture, replacement and installment of projectors and security camera upgrades and installation.

The vote to approve the net school spending, $27,664,687, was voted on by every committee member on Wednesday except School Committee member Mary Morgan, who abstained.

“I’m really disheartened by the amount,” Morgan said. “It’s just pitiful.”

The non-net school spending of $1,748,992 passed unanimously. The total budget, $29,413,679 for the 2019 fiscal year, passed with Morgan abstaining from voting.

Vice-Chair Geoffrey Swett said he sympathized with Morgan’s reasoning.

“I am confounded by the fact that the town is $500,000 or $600,000 short of meeting its own budget,” Swett said “Since we have been precluded by law from printing money...we actually have a million dollars potentially that we have to further cut from this budget, depending on the actions of Town Meeting.”

At a budget meeting with town officials on Dec. 6, Selectmen Chair Peter Teitelbaum said all town departments are dealing with a difficult budget season. Each department head was told to develop a level service budget compared to last year.

During the public portion comment of the meeting, kindergarten teacher Michele Lefrancois voiced concerns about the proposed budget. Lefrancois said there appears to be inequity in the budget for different levels of education. She said John W. Decas Elementary School has the “youngest, neediest learners” who need a solid foundation and should receive a fair amount of funding compared to Wareham High School, which has fewer students.

Lefrancois also pointed out the paraprofessional salary inequities in the district, with more money for the high school’s paraprofessionals than in elementary schools.

“I’m very disheartened by the fact that the elementary schools no longer have a library,” she continued. She said she gives away hundreds of dollars of books every year to her students to impart a love of reading.

“Refrain from cutting anything from a middle school or elementary school budget and look solely where the enrollment is least and the budget requests are the highest,” Lefrancois requested of the committee.

Swett agreed that “on the surface, it looks like the high school is getting a disproportionate amount of the budget.” But the funds are important for the high school, he said.

“I’m uncomfortable with the amount of resources the high school gets, but I’m also uncomfortable with denying them the resources to do what they are do extremely well and what they need to do to compete," Swett said.

MacMillan said school officials will look carefully into how budget reductions are made, a “difficult and detailed process.” At the moment, no final decisions about where the budget will be cut have been made, but he said he expects to do that over the next several months.

Now that the budget has been approved by the School Committee, it will go before Selectmen for review. Finally, the budget must be approved by voters at the Spring Town Meeting.