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.