Each year the K-8 school committee defines a set of priorities to help guide them as they put together a budget for the upcoming year. At a meeting last night, the school committee said their top priorities for this budget season are to focus on personnel and to improve the student-teacher ratio.
School Committee Chairperson Marybeth Strickland said prioritizing personnel and class size is not an indication that there are problems in those areas, rather it’s recognition of how important they are to running successful schools.
Class sizes in Southborough actually shrank this year, but Strickland says there’s still room for improvement. “I feel much better about class sizes this year, but they still don’t meet our policy levels” she said. “They’re still not ideal.”
Committee member Susan Dargan agreed, saying smaller classes benefit all students and can actually translate into cost-savings for the district. When classes are smaller teachers are better able to accommodate students with special needs who might otherwise have to be placed out-of-district, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“We want to keep kids in the district as much as we can,” Dargan said.
As for personnel, Strickland said the priority is on hiring and retaining the best teachers. While she said she doesn’t foresee trying to restore any of the teaching positions that were lost in previous budget years, “everything is on the table.”
Members of the Advisory Committee attended last night’s meeting to reiterate the request that all town boards and committees submit a version of their budget that is reduced by 1% compared to the current fiscal year. The regional school committee has said they will not comply with the town’s request, but the K-8 school committee has yet to take a stance.
Advisory Committee member John Butler said the 1% reduction would give voters a sense of what the impact would be if there was no tax increase next year. “It doesn’t mean that’s the budget you’re going to end up with,” Butler said. “We are asking you to tell us what the impact would be.”
Preparing a 1% reduced budget is about “being responsible to the people in town,” Advisory Committee member Karen Muggeridge said. “A lot of other boards and committees will be looking to you to follow suit.”
Strickland said after the meeting that they are just starting to dig into numbers for next year and have not yet decided what approach they’ll take. “We will present what is reasonable for the schools,” she said.
Strickland said the budget working group – comprised of herself and fellow committee member Kathleen Harragan Polutchko – will start meeting this month. A general budget discussion is scheduled for next month’s school committee meeting, with a preliminary draft of the budget to be presented in January.