K-8 schools: $18M budget, enrollment exceeds expectations, and public forums with budget Q&A (Updated)

Above: Southborough’s K-8 schools, left to right in the order students progress through them – Finn, Woodward, Neary, and Trottier Middle School
(Trottier photo by Susan Fitzgerald; remaining images from the schools’ websites)

In preparation for Town Meeting, Superintendent Dr. Charles Gobron is inviting Southborough residents to public forums on the budget next week.

At the forums, Gobron will present the proposed K-8 school budgets for FY15. Residents are then welcome to ask any questions they have on the subject. (Scroll down for dates & times.)

The proposed K-8 budget for next year is  $18,320,604. It is a 3.67 % increase over this year’s budget. The amount was approved by the School Committee at their February 12th meeting.

At the meeting, Gobron explained that this would be the ceiling. Depending on the final budget for Algonquin Regional High School, they may need to do some “fine tuning” to lower it.

Gobron left room for shifting funds within the budget. Committee members expressed interest in funding a math specialist and increasing classroom technology beyond 4th grade. They also supported increasing administrative staff in the district office.

Another potential impact on the budget is enrollment. Everyone agreed that the K-8 population is shrinking as their largest class size moves through Trottier.

They were surprised to learn that next year’s kindergarten registration is already a full class size beyond predictions.

Kindergarten was projected to be 85 students next year, down 9 from the current class. As of early February, 105 students had registered.

Finn and Woodward schools Principal James Randall told the committee that more students would be starting school after February break. He also reminded them that 1st grade is historically bigger by about a dozen students. (Many students go to private kindergarten, then enroll in public school at 1st grade.)

Gobron pointed out that with fewer classes to split students between, unexpected increases in enrollment have a bigger impact.

The K-8 School Budget forums will be held for residents on:

  • Tuesday, March 4 at 9:30 am @ Woodward School Cafeteria
  • Tuesday, March 4 at 6:30 pm @ Woodward School Cafeteria
  • Wednesday, March 5 at 11:30 am/noon @ Southborough Senior Center*

*The Wednesday forum is a luncheon for Southborough senior citizens. Food will be served at 11:30 am (made by Assabet Valley students) followed by the presentation at 12:00 pm.

*Updated (3/4/14 10:25 am): I was just informed that the information announced at the meeting about the Wednesday budget forum was incorrect. The forum was described as open to the public even though it takes place at the Southborough Senior Center. Actually, the forum is specifically for town seniors. (The free lunch comes out of the center’s budget!) So, if you aren’t a senior and are interested in attending a budget forum, take advantage of the 6:30 pm forum tonight at Woodward School.

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SB Resident
8 years ago

I’m curious if anyone knows how the expectations for K could be off by 20. There are only a few possibilities that I can think of. 1) That many kids of that age moved into the town in the past year. 2) The census numbers are out of whack. 3) The schools don’t look at the census numbers. 4) The percentage of the population attending public K is that different from previous years.

Here is the schools projections:
http://www.nsboro.k12.ma.us/files/_lRGiG_/f7c0b026e8b59e2b3745a49013852ec4/HousingSchCommRpt2-5Final.pdf

I’m curious why the 14-15 year was such an anomaly in the first place.

Al Hamilton
8 years ago
Reply to  SB Resident

This is not an an unexpected trend. 2 years ago when I did the school population forecast, there was a roughly 20 child bump in children born in 2010 vs 2008, 2009 and 2011.

The current population of 7th and 8th graders is not unusual either it is in line with the populations we experienced most of the first decade of the century. What is show clearly in the town census is that the number of children in town by age had declined substantially with 160 to 200 children born each year between 1989 and 2002 after that the number of children born each year falls off to the current rate (as of 1/12) of about 75 to 95.

My suspicion is that the building boom in Southborough really ended in the early 2000 period and that far fewer new families with children moved into town. Those that did stayed and their children are now through the system or in the higher grades. This is coupled with longer term trends of lower birth rates. We are not the only community experiencing this trend.

For better and worse, we have substantially more school building capacity than we need or will need for the foreseeable future. Rightsizing and rationalization is required so we can focus our precious tax dollars on service providers (teachers, police officers, emergency personnel, etc)

Southborough Mom
8 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

I’m guessing the school population forecast didn’t take into account the new apartment complexes in town because you didn’t know about them at the time. How will they change the forecast?

Al Hamilton
8 years ago

Actually they were on the drawing board and I did speak to the town planner about them. I recall that the majority of these units would be 1 and 2 bedroom units that were not likely to house a lot of families with children. The impact was thought to be very modest.

The reality is that even with a blip of 20 children or so is that each year we are graduating 8th grade classes that are roughly 50 children more than the K/1 classes that are coming into the system. Our K-8 school population today is hundreds less than its peak in the early 2000’s (when by the way we had 3 schools).

Our k-8 school populations will continue to decline for the next few years. I believe they will stabilize at around 1000 students down from a high of 1600. After that it might begin to rise in 10 years or so.

The reason I harp on this subject is that we are going to struggle to meet our commitments to the children of our town and to our employees. It is going to be a constant financial challenge to provide quality instruction for our children. In order to have the resources necessary to provide teachers, firefighters, police officers, senior center workers, DPW workers we need to make the most efficient use of our physical infrastructure. We are not doing so today. As a result we are, in a very real sense, building rich and service provider poor. I would prefer the reverse situation. Buildings do not teach our children, teachers do. The Police station does not come to your door if you have a problem a police officer does…

Frank Crowell
8 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

Al – I appreciate that you keeping harping on this.

But I do not think there will any closings. Once we went to the four school system in town, the die was cast – even though we were told at the time it could/would change if circumstances changed. Well, they have in more ways then one.

Al Hamilton
8 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

Frank

You may well be right but, if that is the case, then costs of resolving our crumbling municipal buildings will go up greatly. It could be as much as $10 to $20 million and we will remain a community with very very high levels of debt service. That in turn will put tremendous pressure on operating budgets and make it much tougher to hire teachers and police officers, the people that actually deliver services to our community.

If we converted Neary to municipal use we could always maintain the option of reconversion or build a new facility. The advantage of building a new school some 10 – 20 years in the future is that the state will pick up part of the tab as opposed to a municipal building which we have to pay for ourselves.

But you are probably right it would require a difficult decision and we are far more likely to kick the can down the road rather than face the problem head on.

Anna
8 years ago

Projections are probably off due to the impact of Madison Place apartments. Developers love to understate the number of children that are likely to live there. This is likely just the beginning. We haven’t even fully seen the impact of this project and now we are hearing about Park Central… I predict some difficult decisions down the line for the town and district.

Resident
8 years ago
Reply to  Anna

I agree. i think all the talk about closing a school should be put on hold until we know what is going on with these apartments. Once we close a school it is going to be very expensive to get it back. I think there is a real possibility that school populations will start going up again now that we are getting apartment complexes in town.

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