School Officials See Cuts Ahead For Level-Funded Budget
By: Elise R. Hugus
Superintendent Marc P. Dupuis gave school committee members an update on the status of the Fiscal Year 2011 budget on Tuesday night, calling for belt-tightening measures in order to trim $1.5 million from original projections. Included among his proposals were cuts to extracurricular activities, eliminating a popular field trip for 5th graders, and reducing up to 30 staff positions, a move that will increase class size by an average of two students.
On Monday, selectmen voted to level-fund the school’s budget, which came in this year at $40.89 million. Mr. Dupuis said that schools have been given a further squeeze from the state, which announced that “Circuit Breaker” funding for special education would be reduced to 40 percent, a 35 percent decrease from previous years.
A silver lining for Falmouth schools will come from an estimated $670,000 in federal stimulus grants and Medicaid reimbursements next year. Calling the budget “a work in progress,” Mr. Dupuis said his office had been working for the past month to refine the numbers, to make the cuts as painless as possible.
“This is a serious situation, which every district is facing,” he said. “Honestly, this has been one of the most challenging [budgets], and I’ve been doing this a long time.”
From contractural increases, to out-of-district tuition for special education students, there are $1.5 million in additional expenses that the schools must cover next year, Mr. Dupuis said. Due to cuts in the FY10 budget line items for supplies and materials, library and technology, and capital and maintenance, Mr. Dupuis said he would have to add to those accounts this year.
He proposed $250,000 to cover utility costs, the same amount as the current year’s, but warned that in FY11, the town would be responsible for paying the bills at the newly renovated Falmouth High School. He estimated that $200,000 of that fund would be used by the high school. In order to safeguard Title I programs, full-day kindergarten, and special education, Mr. Dupuis outlined several strategies for meeting the budget shortfall. Some of his proposals were an echo of last year’s, when the school committee was charged with cutting $1.2 million from its projections for FY10; however, this year, the proposed cuts are more severe.
Among the cuts Mr. Dupuis proposed was that of the National Environmental Education Development (NEED) Collaborative field trip for 5th graders to the Cape Cod National Seashore, a $55,000 savings. “This was on the block last year. I know that’s a program that touches all 5th graders, so when we do a final budget, we’ll see what we can do,” said Mr. Dupuis. Another program cut includes a $75,000 reduction for extracurricular activities across all grade levels, but he added that there is a potential to find “outside funding” sources in this area. Up to 30 staff members may not be replaced next year, “the vast majority due to decreased enrollment and attrition,” said Mr. Dupuis. More than 23 of these positions could come from instructional staff at the high school and Lawrence School, for a savings of $1.07 million, he said.
Another eight instructional support staff (teacher’s assistants and special education instructors) may be reduced, as well as one full-time and one part-time clerical or custodial position.
Already this year, Mr. Dupuis said he has received several retirement notices. “We’ll work very hard to do this through attrition as best we can,” he said. Noting that the student population has been on a steady decline at the high school since 2006, he added, “this is in line with a decrease in enrollment.”
Committee member Susan A. Augusta asked if the administration could “ramp up its marketing efforts” for the School Choice program, in which students from other districts can attend Falmouth schools in exchange for a per-pupil fee paid by the state. Mr. Dupuis replied that Falmouth has more School Choice students, across all grade levels, than ever before, but it could start advertising the openings sooner than usual.
A reduction in staff will translate into increased class sizes, Mr. Dupuis warned. Classes from kindergarten to 12th grade will average an additional two students over the target range, he said, showing the breakdown by grade level.
Ernest G. Holcomb, the president of the Falmouth Educators Association, called the proposed budget cuts “the reality of today’s economy.” He said that it is possible that most of the staff positions would be reduced through attrition, and can be justified by decreased enrollment.
“It’s a little nerve-wracking because people are going to lose their jobs,” he said. “Last year it was only two positions that were not refilled. This time around there will be more than that.”
Mr. Dupuis noted that the sum of the proposed reductions adds up to $1.65 million, $150,000 over the necessary cuts. A public hearing on the budget will be held at the next school committee meeting on January 26. The school committee will make its final vote on February 9.
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