Brewster Elementary Schools Face ‘Dire Consequences’; Costs ‘Beyond Our Control’ Say Officials

By: Bronwen Walsh

Topics: Nauset Regional School District , Brewster

Budget and finance.

BREWSTER – Nauset Schools Superintendent Brooke Clenchy said she is well aware that district towns want the schools’ fiscal 2024 operating budget increases to stay in the 3 to 3.5 percent range.

Yet “the cost-drivers that we’re up against, we can’t change them,” Clency said at the Brewster Elementary Schools’ Feb. 16 education committee meeting.
“I know that we’ve been asked to try to come in at that 3 to 3.5 percent by our communities, but I will tell you right now, this has been unbelievably hard for us to do.”

For instance, she said, “we can’t take bussing down from the 14 percent [increase]. It is what it is. There’s nothing we can do about some of these numbers. We’re up against costs that we’ve just got no control over. COVID is over with, but you know what? We’re still feeling these needs.”

Flanked by a dozen elementary school educators in the audience, Clenchy said she and the schools’ staff have met repeatedly as a large group, “pouring through these numbers and thinking, ‘Is there anywhere else we can cut back?’”

“This particular budget season…has been like turning ourselves inside-out like pretzels,” she said. “I’m not sure that we can get there in our Brewster schools with the needs that we are up against.”

Elementary school budget increase of 6.5 percent at Stony Brook and 7.8 percent at Eddy threatens to throw a wrench in Brewster’s fiscal 2024 budget. The only way to get Stony Brook and Eddy Elementary schools’ budget increase down to the requested 3 percent increase is “by bodies,” Clenchy said.

In other words, “to get to 3.55 percent,” said Steve Guditus, principal of the Eddy School, “would look like not filling our third-grade vacancy and not filling our fifth-grade vacancy and cutting one educational assistant. That would result in students who have special needs being piled into one or two classes instead of being in heterogeneous classes throughout all of the school, which we know is best-practice.”

Moreover, third-grade class sizes would increase to the mid-20s and fifth-grade to the mid to high 20s, Guditus said. “That is a significant impact on teaching load, teaching effectiveness, and our students’ best interest…and would have dire consequences on what our programming would look like for our students.”

Keith Gauley, principal at Stony Brook, estimated he would need to cut approximately $144,962 from his school’s budget to meet the 3 percent mandate. “I would have to revisit the administrative assistant position,” he said, and cuts that large would absolutely impact instructional teachers, whether it be enrichment, classroom or specialists.

So between the two Brewster elementary schools, “you’re talking several hundreds of thousands of dollars” to get to 3 percent, Clenchy said, “and you’re not going to find that in a software or a textbook line. When you’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars, you are talking people.”

Also looming large are two major upcoming capital projects at Stony Brook that, given their price and scope, said Town Manager Peter Lombardi, will trigger state Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility code compliance mandates. Those projects include a new HVAC system, estimated at a little over $8 million, and another $3 million to replace the roof.

Spring town meeting voters will be asked to approve $100,000 to fund the initial design work for Stony Brook’s new HVAC system in fiscal year 2024. The actual replacement is scheduled for fiscal year 2025, Lombardi said.

Eddy Elementary needs a larger parking lot, driveway resurfacing and shingling in 2024 for a combined total of approximately $650,000, Lombardi said. Funding likely will be a combination of free cash and non-excluded short-term debt.

Giovanna Venditti, director of business and finance, and Jim Nowack, assistant director of finance and operations for the Nauset district, and corroborated Lombardi’s estimates, saying Orleans Elementary School is facing similar capital expenses, and heating oil, gas and electric costs are up “astronomically” districtwide.

Reporting on the January meeting of the behavioral health task force, committee chair Katie Jacobus said Nauset Schools nurse coordinator Mary Ellen Reed tracked 686 visits related to mental health and anxiety during the 17 school days in January.

“So from what we’ve heard, those are numbers that would profoundly change the education that the kids in Brewster get,” Jacobus said.