Chatham Will Pay $800K More In Monomoy School Budget Shift

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Monomoy Regional School District , Municipal Finance

Monomoy schools.  FILE PHOTO

Salary, Insurance Hikes Will Increase School Budget To $43 Million

If town meeting voters in Chatham and Harwich approve changes to the Monomoy School District regional agreement requiring each town to pay the operating costs of its own elementary school, Chatham's share of the next school budget will increase by $800,000, about $200,000 more than previously forecast.

Slightly more than $100,000 of the increase is due to a hike in the overall school budget because of contractual salary increases and high health and property insurance and utility costs.

The proposed change in elementary school funding will move $699,898 from Harwich to Chatham. The school committee and the select boards in both towns have backed the change to remedy Harwich's underwriting of the cost of Chatham Elementary School. Under the current funding formula, based on the proportion of students from each town, Harwich pays 75 percent of the school budget to Chatham's 25 percent. Harwich subsidizes the cost of Chatham Elementary School, which has far fewer students than Harwich Elementary School.

The Harwich Board of Selectmen has backed the change to the funding formula. Members of the Chatham Select Board have indicated their support and will hear a formal presentation on the change from Superintendent of Schools Scott Carpenter on Feb. 1.

The school committee voted last Thursday to keep the district's integrated pre-school program at Harwich Elementary rather than go back to the pre-pandemic arrangement of two separate pre-school programs. Resuming a separate pre-school program at Chatham Elementary School would have added more than $300,000 to the budget.

At the Jan. 20 session, Business Manager Michael MacMillan presented a preliminary fiscal 2023 budget of $42,929,178, a $1,368,044, or 3.3 percent, over the current year's spending plan. Contractual pay increase account for $703,000 of the increase, he said, and an anticipated 6 percent increase in health insurance adds another $658,000. Because of continued enrollment reductions, one full-time equivalent grade four teaching position will be eliminated at Harwich Elementary School, and there is a request for one new special education teacher, MacMillan said. The budget includes no new programs but it does call for investment in existing programs, he added.

Proposed capital expenditures include $45,000 for a feasibility study of replacing the roof at Chatham Elementary School, the final cost of which would be paid by Chatham; $51,000 for a feasibility study to replace the roof at the regional middle school, a cost that would be shared by the towns; and nearly $200,000 in technology purchases for the district's four schools.

Breaking down the cost based on the current assessment formula, Harwich's share of the budget is projected at $28.5 million, a 4.5 percent increase, with Chatham paying $8.6 million, a 1.2 percent increase. State aid and school choice revenue is expected to be $5.7 million, a $49,000 increase, according to MacMillan.

If the change in the funding formula is approved, Harwich's share of the overall budget would decrease to $27.8 million, while Chatham's would increase to $9.3 million.

The $699,898 shift is “a little bit bigger than what Chatham was expecting,” said Carpenter. The initial projection of around $600,000 was in 2022 dollars, while the latest estimate is in 2023 dollars, he said.

Restoring the integrated pre-school program to Chatham Elementary School would have increased the town's share of the school budget by $1.1 million, which Carpenter would have been a “big gulp” that caught many off guard.

It seems contradictory to ask Chatham to cover the cost of its elementary school but not restore the pre-school program, said Chatham school committee member Danielle Tolley. She encouraged administrators to revisit the pre-school configuration annually and to provide a more inclusive process for parents.

“We know pre-K is kind of this large nut to crack that both towns are really wrapping their heads around, and parents have a lot of feelings about it and anxiety about it,” she said. She suggested a forum on the topic be held “to make sure that folks understand specifically what we're talking about.”

The district's integrated pre-school program focuses on children with special needs and includes a limited number of regular education “peers.”

Town meeting voters in both towns are likely to find themselves addressing two separate school budget articles. Officials hope to place the regional agreement article before the budget, Carpenter said, followed by two budget articles, one including the elementary school funding shift, the other following the current funding formula in case the regional agreement change is not approved. Town counsels in both communities have been asked to provide guidance on the article placement as well as how to handle a split vote on the regional agreement change. Harwich holds its town meeting first, scheduled for May 2; Chatham's meeting is slated for May 14.

“We'll have to have two budgets in the warrant, which will confuse everybody,” said Chatham school committee member Nancy Scott. To avoid that, detailed explanations will be provided before the town meetings and at the sessions, Carpenter said.