School spending: FY17 budgets, district rankings, and K-8 intitiatives on hold

by beth on March 16, 2016

I can’t count how often spending on schools is debated in comments over the year. Recent stories elicited comments again, and now there are two reasons to update you on the topic.

Last month, local media reported Southborough K-8 per pupil spending as above average for the state and higher than most area schools. And on Friday, the Town published the projected budget for next year’s spending.

Town Meeting voters will be asked to approve a FY17 budget of close to $51.9 million, a 2.76% increase over last year.

65% of that budget is attributed to school spending. That’s the portion I’ll focus on today.

Town spending on schools for Southborough students is budgeted at nearly $34 million, a 2.1% increase.

High spending won’t come as a surprise for most. While many decry it, many support it as important to making our school system worthy of our children and a boon to our property taxes.

Some advocates may be disappointed to learn that budget constraints won’t allow for new/expanded K-8 initiatives that some in the community were hoping for: tuition-free Full Day Kindergarten, AP courses, global studies, and engineering/robotics labs. The budget notes:

Although these programs are not being initiated in FY17, the viability of supporting these initiatives continues to be evaluated, and through inclusive discussions some of these proposals may be brought forward at a later date.

The Town budget breaks down 80% of school costs as “school budgets” with the remaining $6.6 million going to benefits, liability insurance, and debt & interest.

From the $27.3 million in “school budgets”, about 71% is for K-8, 28% for Algonquin, 1% on Assabet, and 0.2% on Norfolk Agricultural.

The K-8 budget includes a 2.6% increase and 2 Full Time Employees. A note states that FY17 “is the final year of teacher contracts (2%).”

The Algonquin budget’s increase is only .76%, reflecting a decreased % of Southborough students. Our Town will only be responsible for 41.16% of the budget. The high school staff increased by 1.2 employees, up more than 10 FTE since FY14.

Assabet’s assessment went up as a result of more Southborough students and a recent renovation to the school. And Norfolk reported that a Southborough student has applied for next year. Budgeted costs include transportation.

Last month, Metrowest Daily News compared school spending across the state and in the Metrowest. The numbers were based on FY14 per pupil expenses. The paper reported that the state average was just under $15,100 per student, with most in the Metrowest spending under that.

Southborough K-8 was one of the few area districts that spent higher than the average, at $16,320 per student. For the state, Southborough was the 87th highest spending out of 325.

At the regional level, we fared better, spending $14,088/student and ranking 155th highest. Though, our regional vocational ranked much higher at 47. Assabet Valley Regional Technical spent $18,380/student.

Other area rankings of interest:

  • Shrewsbury: # 303; $11,870/student
  • Hopkinton: # 228; $13,106/student
  • Ashland: # 213; $13,271/student
  • Northborough K-8: # 137; $14,440/student
  • Westborough: # 129; $14,736/student

For the full MWDN article, click here.

For the Town’s full budget, click here.

1 Wendy March 16, 2016 at 7:34 PM

We’re shown total cost per student comparisons all the time. But has anyone ever analyzed data from other towns compared to ours to determine what budget line items bring our per student cost up or where we find savings? Is it our facilities cost or our employee costs or something else? Should we feel good about our extra expenditures or not?

2 Al Hamilton March 17, 2016 at 9:13 AM

I think that if you look at the salary data you will find that our salaries are far above the state averages. The reality of the school budget, and indeed our entire budget is dominated by school labor costs. The last time I looked close to 50 cents of every tax dollar we pay goes to school labor costs.

The high labor costs in turn are driven in part by our shrinking enrollments. That means that we are hiring relatively few new teachers who come in at the low end of the scale and bring the average down. At the other end of the scale we will be heavy with teachers with long tenure who have moved through the step and lane process to the high end of the scale.

Given that we should expect enrollments to continue to decline this will not get better for the foreseeable future.

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