FY 2012 school budget proposals presented

by Town Reminder

FY 2012 school budget proposals presented
Cuts to positions, services on the table

By Scott Feldman
Turley Publications Correspondent

SOUTH HADLEY – Budget proposals were the major highlight of the school committee meeting Wednesday where Superintendent Gus Sayer, High School Principal Dan Smith and Athletic Director Tad Desautels presented their budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2012.
Sayer’s proposed budget will require an additional $539,633 than the Fiscal Year 2011 budget, for a total of $19,332,641, which represents a 2.87 percent increase. Both Smith and Desautels came up with level service budgets, meaning their budgets were slightly reshuffled, but there were no changes to the total amount of money spent.
The cost increases in Sayer’s proposal are primarily due to the combination of more incoming students who require special education services and a loss of grant money that was provided over the past two years by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). This created a situation where the school system essentially faced a $500,000 deficit before the budget process even started. Still, Sayer tried to keep the budget as close to level service funding as possible.
“To start half a million dollars in the hole makes it really hard for us to find enough areas to cut to get back to a zero percent increase,” Sayer said. “In order to do this, we looked very carefully at everything that we’re spending and where we could make cuts that we thought would not hurt us in dramatic ways.”
Sayer went on to highlight a few cost saving measures in his presentation. Such measures included the elimination of a High School Alternative Education teacher, the replacement of a retiring Planning Room teacher with a paraprofessional and the application of remaining money from the federal ‘Edujobs’ grant to this year’s budget.
Sayer also had a list of further cost cutting measures that could be implemented if the state and town budgets cuts are deeper than expected, which will lower the overall increase to $223,432 (1.2 percent).
He said he sincerely hopes to avoid additional cuts because many of the items he listed, such as the removal of a speech/language therapist, would have an adverse effect on the quality of education in South Hadley.
Over the past two years, the school system has been able to add many additional services despite the state’s overall budget cuts thanks to federal grant money provided by the ARRA, which Sayer said has been great for South Hadley.
“Despite having small increases in our local budget, the amount of money we’ve received from the ARRA grant and the Edujobs grant gave us enough funds to not only run our schools, but also to make improvements in school programs that were long needed,” said Sayer.
He then listed various additions that were made, such as adding a librarian to the Michael E. Smith Middle School and introducing a Chinese language program for sixth and seventh grade students. In order to keep these improvements once the grant money runs out, there had to be a slight increase in expenses.
The proposals made by Smith and Desautels were fairly straightforward as both presented a budget that had few significant alterations.
“Really nothing new was added into the budget. It’s pretty much the status quo in terms of line items,” Smith said to the School Committee.
Both Smith and Desautels had to make certain sacrifices to avoid incurring extra costs. Smith had to pare down the number of textbooks the High School will purchase while Desautels was unable to purchase any new helmets for the football team. Neither enjoyed making these choices, but they each felt they could make things work despite the cuts.
An additional school committee meeting to further discuss the FY 2012 budget was scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 10., after press time.