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School Budget Would Rise 10 Percent with 'Level Services'

School Superintendent Michael Harvey unveiled the cost of a so-called "level services budget" on Thursday night to the School Committee.

The fiscal 2014 Hamilton-Wenham Regional School District budget would require 10 percent more money from each town if services were to remain the same as offered this year, Superintendent Michael Harvey said on Thursday night.

The gap has little to do with increased spending – the same level of services next year will cost $247,873, or .9 percent, more in fiscal 2014 than fiscal 2013, which ends on June 30, 2012. Harvey called that "actually good." The gap can be traced mostly to one-time revenue in the 2013 budget that is not currently part of the 2014 budget.

The 2013 budget uses $1.49 million from the district’s excess and deficiency, or E  and D fund, which is essentially a savings account made up of previous year’s fund balances, plus $592,698 that was transferred from the accumulated money in revolving funds, such as the kindergarten fund where fees had been deposited for years but not allocated toward the associated costs in the budget.

The $28.87 million in spending this year would go up to $29.12 million in 2014 with level services, Harvey said. But revenue, besides taxes from the two towns, will drop about $2.08 million from $5.96 million to $3.86 million. That would mean the so-called assessment to each town would go up by 10 percent to fund the 2014 budget with level services and no further non-property tax revenue.

The process to develop the so-called “level services budget” has involved “scrubbing down” the budget, removing unused lines in the budget software and making sure each position in the budget has a specific staff member’s name associated with it, Harvey said. Along with each staff member's salary or hourly pay is any associated stipends and longevity pay for that specific employee.

"We haven't changed any people," Harvey said.

The estimate presented on Thursday involved taking the existing staff and program levels and “rolling it forward,” Harvey said.

The school district has the full-time equivalent of 302 employees.

The increased costs comes mostly from increased pay raises for employees. A 1 percent bonus last year, that was not included in the base salary, will be replaced by a 1 percent cost of living raise in 2014. But 24 teachers will move to a new pay column - Master's degree plus 75 credits - that totals about $2,300 for each teacher.

Thursday night’s presentation of a so-called level services budget for fiscal 2014 comes at week 11 of a 22 week budget cycle. The School Committee is scheduled to take a final vote on a fiscal 2014 budget on Feb. 14.

Harvey said the numbers he presented to the full nine-member School Committee on Thursday night will be changing through the process.

"Things will change as we get more information from the state," he said.

While cuts are possible, Harvey said school leaders still need to keep student needs in mind.

"We can not put on a blindfold and take an ax to it," Harvey said.

There may be a way to save money by finding "efficiencies" in the budget, Harvey said, pointing specifically to special education expenses and the schedule at Hamilton-Wenham Regional High School. With the high school, the schedule will be built based on the specific classes that students sign up for, Harvey said. While registration will begin in February, just as the budget is finalized, Harvey said "we can still make some moves after February."

The next step is for the committee to hear from principals and department heads who will each talk about existing programs and where they may cut. Those presentations will be scheduled over the next several weeks, Harvey said. A public hearing is scheduled for Feb. 7.

Lynnette Fallon December 07, 2012 at 01:38 PM
An editor must have picked that really misleading headline without reading the article ! The proposed FY 2014 HWRSD budget would go up less than 1%, as you acknowledge in the body of your article. Of course, we won't have the benefit of last year's one-time revenue sources, which we all knew were special, didn't we? In contrast to this 0.83% increase in forecast school spending, note that Hamilton's current budget projection has a 2% increase for town spending. I hope the Patch can do a better job next time--many readers don't get past the headlines.
Rich December 07, 2012 at 01:40 PM
"That would mean the so-called assessment to each town would go up by 10 percent to fund the 2014 budget with level services and no further non-property tax revenue"..........hmmmmmm....so what exactly does this mean to my budget.....does anyone care?
Michael December 07, 2012 at 02:38 PM
Lynnette, I agree with your observation. I read a 0.9% increase which is less than 1% - not 10% as The Patch is reporting. Patch editor, can you clarify and re-title the article?
Robert Gates (Editor) December 07, 2012 at 05:34 PM
The budget as presented would require 10% more money from the towns, on average (11% more from Hamilton and 10% more from Wenham) over this year. In real numbers, that is about $700,000 for Wenham and $1.6 million for Hamilton. The assessments to the town are based on the amount that needs to be raised by taxes, after accounting for all other non-tax revenue. In this case it is not increased spending that is potentially driving up the assessment, but instead a decrease in non-tax revenue. What was presented on Thursday does not show use of any E&D money, which made up 25% of this year's non-tax revenue.
Robert December 07, 2012 at 05:47 PM
Time to brush off the schools operational audit? There is much that can be done to have great schools and run them more efficiently. Please rememberbthst the operational audit was passed overwhelmingly by both yowv's TM. Time to get to work.
Robert December 07, 2012 at 05:50 PM
Time to brush off the schools operational audit. There is much that can be done to have great schools and run them more efficiently. Please remember that the operational audit was passed overwhelmingly by both town's TM. Time to get to work.
Alex December 07, 2012 at 07:45 PM
I think the point raised by earlier commenters is that the headline is a little misleading because the school spending isn't increasing, it is the required contribution from the Town that is increasing. Your headline "School Budget" makes it appear that the schools have budgeted for a 10% increase to maintain level services and that doesn't appear to be true from the rest of your article.
Robert December 07, 2012 at 08:48 PM
I agree that the headline could be misleading. To me, "level services" implies that we want to do the same thing next year as we have done this year. We can do better...maintain and improve school services While reducing costs in an intelligent way. We should be reducing the overall budget by thee percent.
Anne Sweeney December 08, 2012 at 12:40 AM
New numbers that have just been released show that things are getting worse for American families. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, median household income declined to $50,054 in 2011. That is a 1.5 percent decline from the previous year, and median household income has now fallen for 4 years in a row. In fact, after adjusting for inflation median household income has not been this low since 1995. These new numbers once again confirm what so many of us have been talking about for so long - American families are steadily getting poorer. Incomes are going down and the cost of living just keeps going up. This dynamic is squeezing more Americans out of the middle class every single month. Others just keep going into more debt in an attempt to maintain their previous lifestyles. As Americans, we really don't like to hear that things are getting worse and that we are in decline, but unfortunately that is exactly what is happening. Our economy does not produce nearly enough jobs for everyone anymore, the proportion of low wage jobs in our economy continues to grow, and the middle class is shrinking at an alarming rate. Our politicians can deliver speeches about how great we all are until the cows come home, but it isn't going to change the reality of our situation. If we want different results we have got to start taking different actions. So how does this translate to a 10% yearly increase. Real Leaders find a way to balance the budget, with cuts or VAT taxes.
Anne Sweeney December 08, 2012 at 12:45 AM
To stay even the statement reads as I see it. We need to come up with 10% more each year in order to stay even ?
class of 1989 December 08, 2012 at 03:16 AM
So did they vote in school choice for next year?
class of 1989 December 08, 2012 at 02:11 PM
Does anyone know if they voted on whether or not to allow school choice for 2012/13?
kerstin locherie December 09, 2012 at 04:55 AM
Most people in Hamilton have money, but there is no one home upstairs :-)
Grace December 09, 2012 at 02:22 PM
Whereever you stand, the current headline is misleading. A more accurate one would be something along the lines of: 'Level Services' School Budget would rise 0.83 %, require 10 % increase from towns. Patch editor - any reason not to correct this? It would then accurately reflect the facts as stated in the content of the article, as well as the points you made in your response above.
Michelle Bailey December 10, 2012 at 02:32 AM
Suggested headlines: ~1. Depleted Revenue Source Could Cause 10% Increase in Town Cost for Schools. ~2. Less Revenue Translates to More Costs to Towns for School Budget. ~3. Schools Facing Budget Challenge with $2mil Less in Revenue. ~4. Meeting School Needs for 'FY 14 with Reduced Revenues Means 10% Increase in Town Allocations.
Jay Burnham December 10, 2012 at 11:40 AM
Suggested headline: "School Spending Supporters Continue Campaign of Complaint and Confusion." Robert is correct... It is well past time to initiate and implement the numerous efficiencies recommended by the Operational Audit. Superintendent Harvey has stated he would do so once he became grounded in his new position. That time has arrived. Taxpayers should not have to wait any longer for school efficiencies that were clearly pointed out in the Operational Audit's detailed report.
Bob Gray December 10, 2012 at 07:20 PM
Jay and Robert are right! The new Superintendent and newly elected School Committee members need to revisit the $90,000.00 Operational Audit report. We all know that not all of the 125 recommendations will work for the HWRSD but it has to be seriously analyzed again! Want to see an interestsing fact.... go onto the boston.com website snapshot and check out "costs per student". If you take the benchmark towns used in the Blue Ribbon report and the Operational Audit you will find that the average cost per student is $12,000.00! Guess what the HWRSD spends?? $14,000.00 !!!. check it out ... http://www.boston.com/yourtown/specials/snapshot/snapshot_mass_student_cost_2011/

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