Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Governor's Budget -- Early Review of Impact on Northbridge

March 4, 2015

Governor Baker released his first budget today for the FY16 Fiscal Year.  How does his proposal impact Northbridge:

Chapter 70 (Local Aid to School Districts):  Although yesterday's press leaks touted the $105M increase to Chapter 70 (a 2.4% overall increase), Northbridge is projected to receive just a $48,700 increase over the current year.  That is just a .32% increase (yes, that's less than even a half percent).  The Governor ensured a minimum increase of $20 per student, and that is basically what we got, just the minimum, for the third year in a row.  There are a couple of factors I think that are driving the minimum increases:

1.  Our enrollment decreased from last year.  This had an impact for sure.

2.  The state has currently set a target share percentage for each district.  Meaning, they want us to pay a higher percentage of our school budget from Town Funds vs. State Aid.  Since we are still above that threshold, unless our enrollment increases drastically, its likely we will continue to receive only the minimum increase until we get to that target %.

Unrestricted General Government Aid:  This is the other form of Local Aid that cities and towns receive.  Again, early news reports included the increase of 3.6% in the headline, and that's exactly what Northbridge.  That amounts to an increase of $67,619 over the current year.

So the net increase in overall Local Aid for the town was $116,319.  Not a huge increase, but every little bit helps that's for sure.

Kindergarten Expansion Grant
 
Unfortunately, there were some other funding changes in the budget that will also effect Northbridge negatively.  The Governor eliminated the Kindergarten Expansion Grant which supports school districts that offer full day kindergarten.  This was one of the line items that the Governor cut from this year's budget earlier this year.  That reduction cost the Northbridge School District about $22K from this year's budget, leaving us with $75K.  With the complete elimination of the grant, that is a total reduction of $97K in funding to Northbridge between this year and next. 

Its interesting that there has been such a push and focus on Early Education in Massachusetts and across the nation, yet it appears to have quickly fallen off the radar.  During the campaign, "candidate" Baker stated: "I am committed to ensuring universal access to early education" in a survey completed for MassVote.org.

The Early Education and Childcare line item was reduced overall by $1.5M from the FY15 projected spending amount.

The Kindergarten Expansion Grant was funded at nearly $24M in FY15, but completely eliminated from the FY16 budget.   



I'll spend some more time reviewing the budget, but this is the early Northbridge impact. 



Clarifying the Bus Changes

March 4, 2015

There have been some questions about how the bus changes have effected students and who will be charged a fee. I will provide an update, to the best of my ability, but the school department will release the official process shortly. (This is not an official Northbridge School District communication.)

As a reminder, school districts are only required to provide transportation to students in Kindergarten through Grade 6 that live more than 2 miles from their school. 

MILEAGE ELIGIBILITY

NES Students (Grades K-1)
- Students who live 1 mile or less from the school:  Not eligible for bus
- Students more than 1 mile, and less than 2 miles:  Eligible for bus, with a FEE
- Students more than 2 miles: Eligible for bus, NO FEE

Balmer Students (Grades 2-4)
- Students who live 1 mile or less from the school:  Not eligible for bus
- Students more than 1 mile, and less than 2 miles:  Eligible for bus, with a FEE
- Students more than 2 miles: Eligible for bus, NO FEE

Middle School Students (Grades 5-6)
- Students who live 2 miles or less from the school:  Not eligible for bus
- Students more than 2 miles: Eligible for bus, NO FEE

Middle School Students (Grades 7-8)
- Students who live 2 miles or less from the school:  Not eligible for bus
- Students more than 2 miles: Eligible for bus, with a FEE

High School Students (Grades 9-12)
- Students who live 2 miles or less from the school:  Not eligible for bus
- Students more than 2 miles: Eligible for bus, with a FEE

FEE:
The bus fee is $200 per student, with a $600 cap per family (i.e. 3 students)

The committee discussed creating a process to allow for students who are not otherwise eligible (based on the above parameters) to enter a lottery to purchase any open seats.  Nothing has been finalized/approved for this as of yet.

In closing, I cannot provide any specifics about exact streets/addresses at this time.  The Northbridge School District will provide that information as exact details are finalized and distributed.

Initial FY16 Budget Reductions



March 4, 2015

At last night's School Committee we reviewed the following potential budget reductions.  These budget reductions a based on an increase in the School Department's appropriation of approximately $250K.  This is an estimate without yet knowing what the Governor's budget will allocate for Local Aid, and without knowing the full plan for the Town Manager's projected budget. 

It is important to note that none of these are yet approved by the School Committee, but will be part of the process and consideration when we approve our budget on March 24th.  Additionally, until we get to that point, these are subject to change.

 
The following are my notes from last night’s review, apologies in advance if something is not 100% accurate, but I will update if needed.

First of all, you will note that there are two added positions on the right side of the above chart.  One position, the Behavior Technician, will be a replacement for the Special Education teacher.  During last night's meeting, Principal Ross indicated the make-up of the programs allow for this type of change.

The other position is an English Language Learner teacher.  We currently have one ELL teacher, but our student population includes more than 30 kids in our schools, who speak 9 different languages. We are currently out of compliance with the state, in terms of our teacher to student ratio.  Even with this addition, we will likely remain out of compliance.

The PT and Psych services referenced above are contract services that we factor into our budget.  This is merely a reduction in the line item, based on recent, historical utilization that the administration feels is reasonable.

The Extended Day Access eliminates a program, which was originally started with a grant, which provided opportunities for our Special Ed students to get out in the community for evening activities.  The district has continued this since the grant was eliminated up until now.

The district had paid a Director of Technology stipend, but based on some changes to our IT team, this has been eliminated.

The funding available for employees to attend conferences, for need Professional Development, has been reduced across the board by $25K.  Approximately $10k remains, as there is training that is required at times throughout the year.

Band & Chorus after school activity will be eliminated, however, based on an adjustment to the Middle School rotation, this can be accommodated during the regular school day.   The reduction is for the stipend which was associated to the band teacher working with the students after school hours.

Stipends for two Department heads at the middle school, as well as Team Leaders at NES have been eliminated.

The two Instructional Technologist positions work with our teachers on all things technology, including utilizing technology in their classrooms and lessons, as well as analyzing data. 

One of the Middle School secretary positions will be reduced to a “school day” only schedule, vs. a full year position. 

We currently have three Instructional Coaches at Balmer and the Middle School, who work closely with our teachers.  One was shared between the two schools.  Each of the three lower level schools, NES, Balmer and Middle School will now have one.

A Grade 5 teacher will be eliminated and the middle school intends to combine Language Arts with Social Studies/History into a “Humanites” class.  The class will be a double block, and will use the content from “history” for the students to work on their reading/writing.