School Committee approves reduced budget

WESTFIELD – Finance sub-committee chair Ramon Diaz, Jr. brought forward a further reduced budget for approval by the School Committee on Monday. He said his committee had previously approved a FY2018-2019 budget for Westfield Public Schools of $61,340,790, which included a $200,000 cut to the district’s proposed budget.
However, Diaz said that Mayor Brian P. Sullivan has asked him to reduce the budget by another $50,000. Therefore, he amended the motion, asking the School Committee to approve a budget of $61,290,790.
“The Finance sub-committee got the best numbers we could, but the Mayor said we needed to come down $50,000,” Diaz said.
Giving an overview of the numbers, Diaz said last year’s budget was $60,175,105. The proposed budget, looking at the whole is an increase of $1,115,685, or 1.8%.
Diaz said although the numbers from the state are not final, the increase to the city budget will be $774,658 after deducting Chapter 70 aid, based on the House budget, for a total contribution by the city of $26,628,225.
Diaz said that $246,371 in expenses came over “rightfully so” from the city side to the school side that previously weren’t accounted for in the district budget, but were in the city budget. These expenses include a dedicated technology staff person for the district, and trash removal, which has been outsourced to a third party vendor.
Diaz said that after deducting these expenses, basically a wash to the city’s bottom line, the actual increase in the school budget to the city would be $528,197.
Diaz said considering the budget contains an increase of $700,000 for Special Education programs, “We did the best job of cutting what we could,” adding that if the money is not spent on the programs in the district, it will cost millions more to send students out of district for the programs they need.
School Committee member Diane Mayhew said the $200,000 cut would pay for the professionals needed in the district. “For me, $700,000 vs. $3.6 million; let’s get some qualified people in here,” she said.
Finance sub-committee member Timothy O’Connor said the last time he went through a school budget was in 2008. He said this year’s budget was “streamlined, clean; makes our job easier.” He said he thought the budget was in great shape to put in front of the Mayor and the City Council.
“We are at bare bones. We brag about how much we save on every student. You get what you pay for. If you cut money, you cut services,” said School Committee member Heather Sullivan, adding, “I would be very disappointed to see us cut any more out.”
“You do get what you pay for. A lot of parents are happy to have their children in our district,” said School Committee member Cindy Sullivan. “I think these cuts are drastic. I’ll support it, because I know we have to,” she said.
“The biggest blow to this budget is the money from the state for the charter school, a $400,000 cut. That’s the biggest hit we’ve had to absorb,” said Finance sub-committee member Kevin Sullivan, referring to anticipated enrollment of Westfield students in the Hampden Charter School of Science in West Springfield. He said the city has no control over the reduction.
Mayor Brian P. Sullivan called the proposed budget “a healthy number.” He also said the School Committee didn’t get to the $250,000 cut without the Superintendent cutting the budget first.
“Having a 1.8% increase hasn’t happened in many years,” Mayor Sullivan said. The budget of $61,290,790 was approved 6 to 1, with Mayhew the sole dissenting vote.
Mayor Sullivan said he plans to present the district budget along with his budget to the City Council at a special meeting on Thursday, May 31.

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