Notes from Burbank PTA Meeting

Last night the Burbank PTA meeting was devoted to generating ideas for how to deal with the severe cuts that are in store for next year’s budget. Unfortunately no ideas were generated except for one: work to pass the override.

There is currently a $3 million gap between what the school administration considers level funding and what the Town says is available for the schools. In response, the school department has listed seven tiers of cuts that they are prepared to make. The tiers represent increasing severity of impact on the quality of education. But even those seven tiers do not total enough to bring the budget in line with expected funding, another $400,000 in cuts are necessary.

Here is a summary of how the administration prioritizes the budget from first cuts (Tier 2) to last resort cuts (Tier 7). Tier 1 comprises adjustments to previous calculations.

Tier 2: Equipment ($100K is still left in the budget for IT), supplies, advertising and recruitment, staff development and HS and MS printing expenses (which are reduced to 0 – no printing allowed). Also HS graduation expense is reduced to $6,000. The police officer who works inside the HS is cut ($28K).

Tier 3: Converting students activities to fee based. This includes K-5 instrumental music ($80K), all non-sport HS student activities ($70K) and all stipends for student activities ($150K). HS athletics are cut by $140K which still leaves about $300K for HS sports. Increase the bus user fee ($82.5K). Cut a secretary in the main office ($25K) and cut two campus monitors ($41K)

Tier 4: Kindergarten classroom assistants ($20K) and all library aides in all six schools ($105K). Also more cuts to supplies ($43K) and staff development ($27K) and about half the book budget ($63K).

Tier 5: Here is where teacher cuts begin: MCAS Math tutor, a guidance counselor, HS Social Studies, English and Art teachers ($127K) and Alice Melnikoff, the Community Service Coordinator ($63K). Also the rest of the book budget ($57K) – no new books at all.

Tier 6: More staff cuts: Middle school grade 7/8 English, Math, Science, Social Studies and Foreign Language ($244K), HS Science, Foreign Language and English ($159K), another guidance counselor (leaves 3 for the whole system, 2 of which are METCO).

Tier 7: Elementary staff cuts: One 5th Grade teacher, One teacher each at Burbank, Butler and Winn Brook and 3 at Wellington ($371K for all 7)

After the elementary staff cuts class sizes at the Burbank are projected to be 25 for Gr.4, 28 for Gr.3, 22 for Gr. 2, 19 for Gr. 1 and 19+ for K.

After the budget summary, School Committee member Anne Rittenburg listed the efforts that have been made to achieve costs savings so far:

  • Looking at ways to achieve savings with the unions. The unions have agreed to meet with the School Committee next week.
  • The public library has been approached about cooperating but they are not interested
  • The recreation department has been approached about integrating HS athletics but they are not interested in doing it next year though they may consider it in the future
  • Looking at ways to continue the Community Service program without a coordinator
  • Looking at ways to provide staff development using internal resources
  • Hoping for stimulus money, in particular funds for special needs students

No additional ideas were proposed at the meeting. Most discussion focused on the need to convince voters to pass the override and the Wellington debt exclusion.

Belmont water pressure

When we were having our pre-purchase house inspection last year I was sure to ask the inspector about water pressure. We had renovated our house in Watertown and added a bathroom on the third floor in which the water pressure was decent but not as strong as we would have liked. He just laughed and told us we’d never have a problem in Belmont. And sure enough, the pressure is amazing here compared to our old house just a mile away.

I just read the article about water conservation in the latest Belmont Citizens Forum newsletter, which includes a table of average water usage for surrounding communities. It says that in Belmont used an average of 73 gallons/person/day, considerably higher than Lexington, 65, Waltham, 68, Watertown, 59 and Cambridge at 49. Summer lawn watering doesn’t explain it since all the towns have fairly similar summer/winter use ratios. My guess is that people in Belmont use more water because every time they turn on a faucet the water comes blasting out like a firehose.

Belmont All Elementary Schools Meeting Notes

I attended the All Elementary Schools Meeting on Monday, February 4th at the Wellington School where Superintendent Holland presented the recommended FY09 budget. Here’s what I learned:

  • The Superintendent is proposing a  budget of $39.8 million to the School Committee, which is a $2.8 million increase or 7.5% over FY08
  • Most of the increase, 4.8%, is for teacher salary raises.
  • Mandated special ed spending represents another 1.5% of the increase
  • 0.5% or $202,500 is for new teachers to maintain class sizes: 2 at the Butler and Wellington added this year, one new 5th grade for next year (the 4th grade class is very large and so each year they move up another teacher must be added to that grade), and one new high school teacher. So adding a teacher costs $50,000.
  • K-4 enrollment continues to exceed projections. K-4 enrollment is 1450 this year versus a projection of 1432 made last year and only 1337 made two years ago. The projection for next year is about equal to this year but in FY09 there is a big jump up to 1493 projected.
  • Full-day kindergarten will cost $380,000 (about 1% of the increase) for making the kindergarten teachers full-time and for adding specialists and assistants. The town has won a “transition grant” of $150,000 that will be used for planning the curriculum over the summer and for purchasing furniture and materials. The school administration also recently learned that we are eligible for a “QA” grant for implementing the first year of full-day kindergarten that, if awarded, could be about $210,000.
  • A new position of Director of Guidance is proposed at a cost of $90,000
  • Recent negotiations for higher contributions by town employees for health care has resulted in $136,000 in savings in medical insurance costs
  • The town will meet on Feb 14 with the state school construction funding authority to “collaborate” on planning the new Wellington school. If that body approves state funding for construction then the town will have 4 months to have a townwide vote to approve funding. If the town doesn’t approve it then Belmont will go back into the queue of towns waiting to get school construction funding with diminished standing before the state authority. If the town approves funding then the plan is to start construction in June 2009 for occupancy in Winter 2011. During construction the students will likely be housed in modular classrooms at the high school, the Winn Brook or both.
  • The town currently has a projected $3.6 million deficit so it is likely that the proposed school budget will be cut unless an override is passed. The town is currently considering a “pavement override” for roads and a bond exclusion for the new Wellington, so a third tax increase will be quite a lot for voters to swallow at one time.
  • The critical meeting to attend for those who want to voice an opinion on the school budget is Saturday morning, March 1.
  • Fewer than 25% of the households in Belmont have children in the public schools