Draft Spending Plan Shows 3.6 Percent Increase
Many of the same factors that are contributing to cost of living increases for residents, businesses and municipal government — continued fallout from COVID including supply chain problems, utility increases, labor shortages — are also driving up the school budget. The draft $44 million Monomoy Regional School District budget for the upcoming fiscal year approved by the school committee last Thursday includes $1.5 million more than this year's spending, a 3.6 percent increase.
Harwich could see a more than $1 million increase in its share of next year's school budget, while a much more modest increase of $162,000 is projected for Chatham.
While the budget includes a shift of $741,034 from Harwich to Chatham to cover the operating costs of Chatham Elementary School, Harwich will still see a $1,086,464 increase in its education assessment. That's partly because of the formula that allocates spending between the district's two towns. It's based on a three-year rolling enrollment average, and there were more Harwich than Chatham students at the beginning of that period.
District Business Manager Michael MacMillan said the formula can mean a delay in reflecting current enrollment. Harwich's contribution would have been even higher if not for the shift in elementary school funding, he added.
“That's one thing I'm sure we will stress when we present to the town of Harwich, that it would be higher if we had not made a change to the assessment,” he said at the Jan. 12 meeting.
All of the figures are preliminary, Superintendent Scott Carpenter noted, with the final allocation between the two towns dependent on the minimum local contribution that is calculated by the state and includes factors other than enrollment, such as property values. Those figures aren't expected until March.
“Sometimes we have some surprises when we get close to town meeting” because of the state's timing, Carpenter said. “That's the number I think that gives me a lot of angst.”
Harwich's total assessment, as currently calculated, comes in at $28,392,920, a 3.8 percent increase, with Chatham's contribution up 1.6 percent at $9,670,973.
The state figure will be a factor in determining each town's contribution to the budget, but the $44,323,116 bottom line is not likely to change much. Of that amount, state and other funding accounts for just over $6 million, a figure that could also change depending on final numbers from the state. Other uncertain factors that could influence the bottom line include health insurance and school choice numbers.
MacMillan said fallout from the COVID pandemic continues to drive an increase in the need for academic intervention and broader social and emotional learning support, as well as more demand for special education resources.
“The needs of our students are growing, and that impacts the budget,” he said. Inflation, supply chain issues and other factors are also driving up costs. “All of those things are also putting a lot of pressure on our budget,” he said.
Salaries continue to drive 80 percent of the budget, MacMillan said, with an increase of $766,500 next year. That figure is somewhat offset by a $253,000 decrease in salaries due to staff turnover, with new hires at lower salary levels taking the place of more senior retiring staff. “That's been a huge help,” he said. Again, COVID has been a factor, contributing to a higher level of turnover than previously seen.
Fewer students are leaving the district to attend charter schools or schools in other towns, resulting in a $369,000 savings, MacMillan said. “That's great news for us, and it's really helping to offset the increase we're seeing,” he said. Overall district enrollment is stable at 1,780 students, five more than 2022. More students graduated than entered kindergarten, he added, but there were increases seen in pre-K enrollment as well as in grades five and eight.
Based on district priorities, full-time math and English language instructional coaches for the district are being requested in the budget, along with a theater house manager for the high school. A special education teaching position at Chatham Elementary School would increase from part to full time. Facilities projects include a $7,000 upgrade of the robotics lab and a wireless access point upgrade at the middle school. Capital projects include $60,000 for external lighting at the middle school to augment student safety, $40,000 to replace carpets and $10,000 to replace a network switch, also at the middle school, and $80,000 for a new pickup truck. Proposed roof replacements at the middle school and Chatham Elementary School are being postpone because the state is not funding roofing projects at this time.
The draft budget was scheduled to be delivered to Harwich and Chatham by Jan. 15, the deadline set in the regional agreement. The school committee will hold a budget workshop on Jan. 19 and a budget hearing Feb. 2, both beginning at 6 p.m. at the high school library. A final vote on the budget is scheduled for March 9.