WESTFIELD – At a public hearing on Wednesday, Superintendent Stefan Czaporowski and Chief Financial Officer Ronald R. Rix presented a budget request of $61 million containing a zero percent increase to the city. In addition, the budget represents a decrease in health insurance in the city budget of approx. $300,000 due to 37 fewer employees in the district, without cutting programs or services, they said.
The biggest reason for the zero increase to the city is an anticipated increase in Chapter 70 (Local Aid) funding of $2.1 million, due to an effort on the part of the state to rectify shortfalls in foundation budgets. As a result, along with anticipated grants and decreased expenses in certain areas, an actual increase of 3.1% in a budget totaling $63.1 million for FY20 will not be passed along to the city.
An anticipated $300,000 to pay for Westfield students who attend charter schools will be deducted from the Chapter 70 funds. The majority of the remaining increase is intended to cover a $1.4 million increase in the cost of Special Education; and a smaller increase in the English as a Second Language program.
“Our hope is that we’re going to be able to improve their services,” Czaporowski said about the two programs.
Czaporowski said part of the decrease in the number of employees is due to the difficulty in hiring Special Education teachers, who are in high demand, and whose positions in some cases have been contracted out. He said attrition accounts for other eliminated positions. The expense ratio has also changed this year, to 77% on the personnel side and 23% for program expenses, down from a split of 80/20.
Another savings in the budget is in severance pay, which has decreased from $900,000 two years ago to $300,000 this year, and will be eliminated over the next two years as a result of contract negotiations.
“It’s not even half of what we need, but we’ll take it,” Czaporowski said about the increase in local aid.
Rix said that he believes the projection for the Ch. 70 amount, which is based on the number in the House Ways & Means budget, is relatively safe, and generally a middle number between the lower Governor’s budget and higher Senate’s. The joint House and Senate committee will debate on the budget in mid-May.
Czaporowski outlined some of the priorities in the district’s FY20 budget, the foremost being a balanced budget with a 0% local increase.
The district wants to keep its momentum on technology for learning, with a plan to introduce 1-1 Chromebooks (one for every student) in the fall, starting with Westfield Middle School and then Westfield Intermediate School. In the last two years, the district has purchased 3,000 Chromebooks. Czaporowski said there will be a presentation on the technology plan for the next three years at the May 6 School Committee meeting.
Another district goal is to expand STEM (Science, Technical, Engineering and Math) programs and career pathway opportunities for students, helped by Project Lead the Way grants of $95,000 for a robotics program in Westfield Middle School, professional development at Franklin Ave. elementary school, and a new career pathway for engineering at Westfield High School.
Three additional elementary specialists, two of whom will be focused on teaching STEM, are in the budget for next year. Czaporowski also said that for STEM week last October, WMS students went to Westfield Technical Academy for hands-on STEM activities. This year, he said the plans will be district-wide.
Another new career pathway at WHS in the budget for next year is criminal justice, which Czaporowski said is in development. The committee is chaired by Susan Figy, a retired Westfield PD detective and an adjunct professor at Bay Path, and has on it members from Westfield State University, Springfield Technical Community College, Holyoke Community College, probate courts, WPD, along with several teachers and students. Czaporowski called the amount of interest in the program from students, “impressive.”
Czaporowski said the district also plans to expand dual enrollment opportunities at Westfield State University.
Also in the budget is a one-time curriculum purchase in social studies due to changing statewide standards. Civics will now be taught in grade 8, U.S. History I and II in grades 9 and 10, and World History in grade 11.
Preventive maintenance will also be a priority for the district. Potholes at Westfield High School and Munger Hill were recently fixed, and they hope to mill and pave some of the parking area next year. A new roof for the gym, pool and locker room areas at Westfield High School will be addressed over the summer, as will leaks in the roof at the Westfield Middle School. Rix said they also plan to hire an HVAC person for the schools who can maintain the systems, after spending $100,000 a year for HVAC repairs.
Rix said for the last three years, while the state associations have been working on foundation budget reform, the district has been investing and strategizing, and looking at its baseline for the next three years; all of which has resulted in this “unique” budget request.
Next Monday, April 29 at 6 p.m., the Finance sub-committee will meet to review the budget line by line, before bringing it to the School Committee for a vote.
“I’m really confident in the work that we did to prepare this budget,” Czaporowski said.