Nauset School Committee Says Some Budget ‘Drivers’ Beyond Its Control

By: Ed Maroney

Topics: Municipal Finance , Nauset Regional School District

Nauset Schools.  FILE PHOTO

ORLEANS — The Nauset Regional School Committee says it’s done what it could to hold down projected costs for the budget that begins July 1, but recognizes that some sharp increases are beyond its control.

Members are ready to make their case and take questions at tonight’s (March 10) public hearing at 6 p.m. before voting on the budget.

The operating budget for the regional high school is proposed to go up 1.59 percent to $12,348,334, the middle school budget 1.67 percent to $8,808,190, and the region’s share of the central office budget 2.15 percent to $1,902,944. All these increments are well within the voluntary percentage caps that the four Nauset towns asked the system to observe.

But then comes “the one budget, the show-stopper here, that we can’t do anything about, region-only costs: transportation costs, special education costs, out-of-district costs,” vice chair Judith Schumacher said at the committee’s March 3 meeting. “They are what they are. This is what has driven this budget up to what it was. If we hadn’t had grant funds or taken the million dollars out of E and D, we’d be in much worse shape.” (E and D stands for excess and deficiency funds, the surplus or deficit in operating funds at the end of the fiscal year that state law allows school to apply to their upcoming budgets.).

The proposed region-only budget is $14,144,278, an increase of $1,640,628 or 13.12 percent over the current year. It includes, for example, payments that must be made for students living in the Nauset district who choose to go to the Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School (projected FY23 cost per pupil: $22,882) or Sturgis Charter Public School ($24,910) for a projected increase of $552,621 or 34.96 percent. Projected attendance, based on a three-year average, is 64 for Cape Cod Lighthouse and 12 for Sturgis.

The total proposed assessment to Brewster, Eastham, Orleans, and Wellfleet reflects a 5.89 percent increase. The towns will pay a percentage based on the number of their children in schools as of Oct. 1 last year.

“One town that seems to be hit hardest is Orleans, but it’s not the 5.8 percent that they’re hit by,” Schumacher said. “It’s the fact that their assessment has gone up from 19 to 21 percent because Orleans has 27 more students in school this year than last year.” It was the only town to show an increase.

“With our budget going over, some towns will have room enough in their budgets to cover the 5.8 increase,” said committee chair Chris Easley. “Other towns may not and may have to go for an override, not just because of us but other items they’re doing. If their budgets are coming in and requiring an increase in the tax rate greater than 2½ percent on their own, we just fall under that.”

Although the regional system has held the line for years, “we have drivers, cost drivers in education that are impacting the cost of providing quality education to students that we have no control over,” Easley said. “We cannot go about cutting our services to our students to balance our budgets when we have all these rising costs for transportation, salaries, etc.”

Schmacher said members had issued warnings over the last few years about being able to continue living within a 2½ percent cap. “We artificially in many ways kept it to where we did. We knew we were squeezing. We’ve squeezed all we can squeeze.” Easley said the schools have stayed under that cap since 2012.

Member Tom Fitzgibbons, who served on the Brewster Finance Committee, said contracted step increases in salaries and cost of living allowances amount to 4 percent increases in teacher salaries in several school systems he studied. “The only hedge you have is retirement,” he said, with the opportunity to bring in someone earlier in their career.

“We have done an extremely conscientious job” on the budget,” Fitzgibbons said. “Cutting the quality of education to the children wasn’t even on the table. Really, our number one goal is to maintain and improve the quality of education in our district. This is a finance guy saying this. Regardless of what the numbers are, we’ve displayed real prudence in how we manage our funds, the scrutiny of costs. I think our controls and commitments have been phenomenal.”

The Zoom meeting ID for Thursday's session is 87192780471 and the passcode is 037069.