Schools Tout Gains In Seeking 4.7 Percent Budget Hike

By: William F. Galvin

Topics: Education , Monomoy Regional School District

Monomoy Middle School students brace against the wind Tuesday morning. TIM WOOD PHOTO

HARWICH — The Monomoy Regional School District's proposed FY19 budget of $39,908,354, a 4.7 percent increase, is money well spent, Superintendent Scott Carpenter told members of the board of selectmen and finance committee Monday night.

He based the statement on student growth percentiles from MCAS testing between 2011 and 2017, with only one area in the 2017 tests where the score was below the state average. That was in eighth grade math, where the percentile was 40 percent compared to the state average of 50 percent.

Student scores have grown by 10 percent in math and English from where they were five years ago, he said, a sign of “great headway.” He also touted improved graduation rates over the past three years, from 80.8 percent for the class of 2015 to 91.5 percent last year.

The budget split between Chatham and Harwich, based on a three-year rolling enrollment average, shifts this year modestly toward Chatham by .23 percent, with Chatham contributing 26.75 percent and Harwich 73.25 percent. Harwich will account for 64 percent of the district's students, Chatham will send 23 percent, while 13 percent are school choice students. The draft FY19 assessment for Harwich, including operating budget, transportation, capital and debt, is $25,748,502, with Chatham at $9,261,488. That's a 3.99 percent increase for Harwich and a 3.58 percent increase for Chatham.

What's driving the budget this year is transportation, contractual obligations, health insurance, property insurance, tuition and retirement costs, Carpenter said. Strategic curricular initiatives such as robotics, elementary curriculum, social emotional curriculum and TV/studios/STEM needs for the middle school and other strategic improvements are also pushing the numbers up.

The district is also seeking $50,000 for a stabilization fund, which will require approval by the school committee and boards of selectmen in both towns, Carpenter said. The fund will allow the district to reserve money for unforeseen projects to buffer costs, he said.

Carpenter said enrollment projections, staffing and Chapter 70 state aid remain level, adding that he anticipates enrollment will pick up over the next couple of years and could reach 700 at the high school level. The good news is health insurance for active employees will increase by 6 percent, less than the 12 to 15 percent experienced in some recent years.

Carpenter said the district's excess and deficiency fund was certified for FY17 at $1,881,028, with $870,000 to be used to support the FY19 budget. The district planned to build the excess and deficiency fund to 4 percent, but Business Manager Katie Isernio got it to 5 percent. The excess and deficiency fund is made up of surpluses or deficits in the district's general fund.

School choice revenue is projected at $1,359,051 against $1,259,000 in expenditures, leaving a balance of $307,426. Carpenter said school choice and circuit breaker funds, provided for students with profound special needs, will be used to help offset costs.

Finance committee member Dana DeCosta said the budget message sent out by selectmen called for departments to limit increases to 2 percent. He asked if the school district looked at the impact of such an increase, and Carpenter said he had not, but added it would require an appreciable shift in school programs. DeCosta also said he'd like to hear more about the need for a stabilization fund.

“We all have to live within the context of what we can levy,” Selectman Donald Howell said. “We've got to figure out how to run a town with what's left over. That's asking an awful lot of taxpayers. It's kind of difficult to sustain that model.”

Finance Committee Chairman Jack Brown said he applauded the stabilization fund effort, but he was concerned by the proposed use of $870,000 in the excess and deficiency fund. Carpenter said he hoped that number can be a little less, saying there is a potential for additional funds from the commonwealth through Chapter 70 funding.

Selectmen had questions relative to tuition-out costs, especially as they relate to charter schools. There were also questions about costs associated with Chromebooks for the elementary schools. They also raised issues about plumbing for the bathrooms at the athletic field.

Cape Cod Regional Technical High School Superintendent Robert Sanborn also presented the school's proposed FY19 budget Monday night, explaining the tech school committee will be voting the final budget on Feb. 15.

Sanborn praised the work of teachers in the school, pointing to a MCAS advanced/proficient rating at more than 90 percent. He admitted they need a little more work in math, but he noted the school has a graduation rate of 92.9 percent, and a post-graduate survey shows 50 percent of those students end up employed in the technical fields they were trained in while 37 percent go on to additional education.

The tech school's $14,944,000 budget includes a 1.44 percent increase, Sanborn said. Harwich sends 77 students to Cape Cod Tech, which requires a payment of 13.1 percent of the budget, or $1,583,845. There were no questions for Sanborn. He also made a short presentation on the new school project, which is scheduled to start in December 2018 and be completed by December 2020 or January 2021.