Town Meeting Update: School budgets

by Beth Melo on April 9, 2021

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This Tuesday, the Board of Selectmen will hold a joint meeting with the Advisory Committee. The two bodies will discuss their budget recommendations to bring to voters this May.

The meeting packet includes a draft estimating a 3.56% tax rate increase. That could go up or down as the two groups hash out some outstanding budget issues.

Two sections of the budget that are unlikely to change are the budgets for the Southborough public schools and Algonquin Regional High School. School committees have already voted to authorize those budgets.*

In preparation for Town Meeting discussions, NSBORO schools administration has posted Budget documents for the next fiscal year. I’m pulling together some highlights of what they are asking voters, and how it is being pitched.

Increases compared to last year’s Recommended Budgets

For Southborough’s K-8 schools, voters will be asked to approve a budget of $21,734,434. It’s $497,959 more than last year, a 2.34% increase.

For Algonquin, the figure is $24,976,703, an 844,623 increase representing an extra 3.5%. Southborough taxpayers’ assessed share is $7,541,363. (That’s up by $184,542, a 2.51% increase.)

To make the increases more palatable, the administration is asking the public to look at them in a different light.

Based on the financial strain the pandemic was putting on residents, last May the schools significantly reduced their planned budget requests. The administration highlights the increases as small/reasonable when compared to budgets the school committees originally authorized to bring to voters in 2020.

In that context, the increases are:

  • Southborough K-8 – 0.35% increase over the “Recommended” FY21 Budget
  • Algonquin – 1.69% increase over the “Recommended” FY21 Budget

Budget Drivers

Obligations

Across the districts, contractually obligated staff salaries and benefits are of course a significant portion of the budget. 

In Southborough schools, the obligations make up 85% of the budget. Over $355K in cost of living increases is the biggest driver in budget increases this year.

For Algonquin, over $428K is listed as “COLAs & Line Item Increases”, Insurance costs (including health and workers comp), and assessments for the regional retirement system. 65% of the budget is allocated to Contractual Obligations.

In addition, Algonquin lists over $389K is for fees charged for special educations students out of district tuition.

Other drivers

The other main drivers listed for Southborough budgets are $80K for “Restoration of Maintenance of Buildings” and $62,700 is dedicated to expanding World Language teaching to Grade 5.

Algonquin is dedicating more than $27K to technology.

Both schools also have over $1.2M in savings/increased reimbursements to help offset the increases.

Growth Areas

For Southborough K-8: 

  • Instructional Resources and Professional Learning – History and Social Science Curriculum and
  • Mathematics
  • Instructional Capacity to Support Teaching and Learning
  • Expands World Language Program to Grade 5
  • Translation Services
  • Human Resources: Absence Management Software for Employees and Substitute Management

For Algonquin:

  • Instructional Resources and Professional Learning
  • Translation Services
  • Increased Instructional Capacity to Support Social Emotional Learning (.3)
  • Human Resources: Absence Management Software for Employees and Substitute Management

Priorities

Budget Books laid out the Approved Budget Priorities for the FY22 district budgets:

Southborough Budget priorities ARHS Budget priorities

*The committees authorized the budgets to be presented to Town Meeting voters. Voters still have to approve (or could amend) them.

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