School Dept. stresses zero increase to city in budget review

WESTFIELD – In presenting the School Department’s budget in day two of the budget hearings, Superintendent Stefan Czaporowski led off by saying there is no increase to the city in the school budget of $63.1 million which also represents a reduction of $300,000 in city health insurance benefits for school employees. He said this feat was due to an increase of $2.1 million in local aid from the state this year.
“For the first time, we’re seeing the state start to fund those unfunded mandates,” Czaporowski said, adding that the state is looking to put $1 billion into education over the next seven years, and is recognizing how education is changing, and its skyrocketing costs.
He said $1.4 million of the anticipated increase of $1.9 million in Chapter 70 funds, after a deduction of $300,000 for charter schools, will be spent on Special Education programs, a priority of the state for the increase. He said another $347,000 will be for personnel, $98,000 for a previously negotiated increase in the transportation contract, and also funds for a one-time purchase in social studies curriculum.
Finance Committee chair Brent B. Bean II asked what the personnel increases entailed. The superintendent said they would be adding some additional Special Education personnel, three Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) teachers in the elementary schools, and a half-time Criminal Justice teacher for a new program in the high school.
Czaporowski also said there are no non-negotiated raises in the budget, as several unions are still in negotiations.
Chief Financial Officer Ronald R. Rix said there are 37 fewer positions in the budget than in 2019, but there have been no cuts, and they haven’t reduced services. He said instead they restructured according to the district’s needs, such as the Special Education programs have been contracted out.
“We pay a little more on the school side, but the city saves on health benefits,” Rix said.
Later in the meeting, School Committee Vice Chair Ramon Diaz, Jr. said the district had to add staff at the high school level to continue SPED programs started in the elementary schools a few years ago.
Rix said what is unique is that the funding formula from the state is very different. Czaporowski said he can’t remember a time when the district has not asked for an increase in local resources.
Bean said he couldn’t either, but was concerned that the union negotiations were not complete, and asked whether increases would be absorbed by the district. Rix said they would be, and the increases in spending in the budget are one-time, mainly in HVAC and technology.
John J. Beltrandi III asked whether Rix was confident in the projection for grants in the budget. Rix replied that the grants included are recurring grants, based on the previous year’s number. One time grants were not included in the projections.
Ralph J. Figy, school liaison for the City Council, said this year is the first time he could remember that the split between personnel and expenses was under 80 percent, and down to a 77/23 percent split. Rix said the split may change slightly following the negotiations.
“I think you did a good job,” commented Beltrandi, to which Rix replied, “We feel very responsive. We know we’re a part of the city.”

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