Fund Our Future Forum Shines Light On Impact Of Budget Cuts
BARNSTABLE/HARWICH – While the Monomoy Regional School Committee again reviewed the proposed budget for fiscal year 2020 prior to its approval March 14, educators from several Cape districts shared the impacts of budget cuts in a Fund Our Future forum held at Cape Cod Community College.
The Monomoy budget totaling $40,751,482 was unanimously approved during last week's school committee meeting after several revisions, including some made at the request of the Harwich Board of Selectmen, and is down from an initially proposed $41.3 million.
“There was a request to...reduce the budget as it impacts Harwich by $350,000,” Superintendent Scott Carpenter told the school committee during a final budget presentation. “I met with the finance subcommittee and worked with them to make recommendations that are included in the budget tonight.”
Carpenter said the school committee's finance subcommittee worked diligently to meet the reduction request while still formulating a budget that would allow Monomoy Schools to thrive.
“We’re very cognizant of our mission statement and our strategic plan,” Carpenter said. “We want to make sure that we’re moving that strategic plan forward, and have supportive class sizes in this budget. That’s an important piece. We also want to make sure that whatever budget we’re putting forth to our towns is something that fits within their fiscal circumstances.”
Carpenter said that the aim of the school committee is to create a budget that isn't necessarily the driving force of the overall town budgets, and that he feels the revised plan meets that goal.
“We have consistently come in at a reasonable place relative to the town, and I think the punchline of this budget that we’ll be moving forward is, I think, quite reasonable with regard to the town,” Carpenter said. “Our budget is up by 2.7 percent (from FY19). We're a lot less than where the town budgets are.”
To help meet the revisions and address a shortfall that was predicted in January, the budget cut 8.5 full-time staff positions, including 3.3 full-time teachers, 4.7 full-time support staff, and 0.5 full-time central office staff.
Harwich Elementary School teacher Katie Carey was one of those to lose her job. A Spanish teacher, Carey was let go when the school committee voted in favor of replacing the foreign language with a new science/STEM program in spite of parent surveys expressing a desire to keep Spanish. Carey was a panelist at the Fund Our Future forum, which took a hard look at how budget cuts and constraints have impacted districts across the state, including Monomoy.
“As an educator I am disappointed to see how every year students are being provided with fewer opportunities. Teachers are being cut and replaced by programs that may or may not prove successful,” Carey said “Schools are having to make cuts to staff to make up the money they don't have. As a parent I am scared for my children’s future.”
Also on the panel was Monomoy Regional Middle School Guidance Counselor Kristen Hayden, who spoke about the demands of her job due to a lack of proper funding from the state.
“For me the focus is more on what funding does not look like,” Hayden said, emphasizing that she is the sole guidance counselor for the 450 students attending MRMS.
Hayden said that on a daily basis she is inundated with requests to help students through extreme personal situations including a family member's addiction, tumultuous home environments, anxiety, and the myriad issues that come with adolescence. Though the school has posted a job opening for a school psychologist, there have been no applicants, leaving Hayden the sole counselor at the school.
Also impacting the decision to cut staff is declining enrollment. Although the Monomoy district has seen fewer of its students opting to attend other schools through school choice, and has roughly 13 percent school choice students, Carpenter noted that since FY16 the overall number of students in the district has decreased by 58, which he attributed to a decline in school-age children across the Cape.
“We don't anticipate that the number from FY19 will be going up,” Carpenter said regarding enrollment. “At best it will be a level enrollment.”
Carpenter said the reduction in staff will allow the strategic enhancement of some areas of the district's programs, particularly at the middle school where a significant increase in students is expected in the next school year.
While the district was able to include a healthcare package with no increase in costs, a major impact came from out-of-district special education placements, which total $430,000 for FY20. While the state's Circuit Breaker program will reimburse those costs in FY21, the placements put a significant dent in the FY20 budget.
At the CCCC forum, impacts such as this were part of a broader discussion regarding cuts to Chapter 70 state education aid, which has dropped by $405 million since 2002, not only affecting public school districts but also the state's colleges and universities. Several proposed bills, including the Promise Act, aim to fix the problem by increasing the allocations from the state. In Monomoy's case, the Promise Act would mean $1.4 million in aid versus $350,000 from Governor Charlie Baker's bill.
Another MRSD budget hurdle concerned the minimum required contributions of the towns of Chatham and Harwich based on each town's foundation enrollment. Carpenter said a 37-student decline in Chatham's foundation enrollment is driving a decline in Chatham's minimum required contribution, while Harwich had an 11-student increase that drove their minimum require contribution upward.
“That swing...has had a rather significant impact on the minimum required contribution calculations,” Carpenter said. “Harwich goes up by $671,000, Chatham goes down by $152,000 and that factor in an of itself drives the punchline of this budget.”
Though not every school committee member approved of the use of roughly $500,000 from the district's excess and deficiency fund to help balance the budget and address the shortfall, the budget vote in the end was unanimous.
“Although it may not be ideal to Harwich, we all put our best foot forward and what we're seeing tonight is our best effort,” said committee member Tina Games.
“Maintaining programming, reasonable class sizes, all the educational options for kids,” said Carpenter. “I'd argue that at 2.6 percent, the school district is doing its job.”