Initial 2014 Town Budget Estimate Tops $91.5M
Bare-bones budget could be "dire" for schools as possible teaching reductions, increase in average class size.
Before a joint meeting of the Belmont Board of Selectmen and Belmont School Committee on Monday night, Feb. 11, Town Administrator David Kale laid out the initial budget for the coming 2014 fiscal year.
And while he is forecasting the use of rainy-day funds to keep the town's budget out of the red, black clouds are looming just a few years ahead as the town sees a dwindling number of revenue sources it can tap to match Belmont's expenses.
Under current assumptions, the fiscal year 2014 town budget leaps over the $90 million mark to stand at $91,531,020, a $2.2 million increase from the final 2013 budget approved by Town Meeting last May.
In this initial view, the 2014 "available revenue" budget for schools sees education spending increase by $1.1 million to $44,208,210.
And while both budgets increase by a bit more than two percent compared to last year's base, the current schools spending amount would place Belmont education in "dire" straits, according to Belmont School Superintendent Dr. Thomas Kingston, resulting in service reductions, an increase in class sizes throughout the system and reducing overall staff by nearly eight positions.
Both Kale and Kingston did reiterate that Monday's proposed budgets for school and town were missing one important component: a final take on state money.
Currently, the town and schools are assuming Belmont's allotment in state aid for general government and education – known as Chapter 70 – will be "level" funded at the same amount as last year's state budget.
Yet the heads of both town and schools are hoping their conservative outlook is trumped by some Beacon Hill largess. Earlier in the year, Gov. Deval Patrick presented his 2014 budget which would increase state funds to communities through an increase in the state's income tax. Under Patrick's proposal, Belmont would receive an additional $684,350 this coming fiscal year.
Yet Kale said Patrick's proposal would need to be approved by the State Legislature which will present its own fiscal blueprint in April.
Until that final state amount is known, it will be a long-waiting game before a more finalized budget can be formulated.
If additional state funds come flowing into town or other revenue streams are discovered, there are a number of town services that should be funded, according to Kale.
On the wish list would be hiring a School Resource Officer, adding two employees at Public Works and the Fire Department, teaching positions, facilities maintenance and capital budget funding.
Three school budget scenarios on display
Kingston presented three budget scenarios and the associated costs to illustrate what is at sake for Belmont schools.
• Under the "True Level Service" budget – which Kingston said would maintain the quality of instructional services at current but changing levels – the district would forgo new education initiatives but would purchase a new $200,000 kindergarten-to-5th grade mathematics series to replace the current one introduced 18 years ago, increase staff by six new teachers to address the estimate 200 additional students predicted to enter Belmont schools by 2014 and fully implement the new educator evaluation system.
This blueprint will require a $3.2 million increase in funding from the fiscal 2013 budget, or about $2.1 million more than the school department's fiscal '14 proposed budget.
• In the so-called "Roll-Ahead" budget, current staffing levels will be carried forward with no new teacher hirings, services for teachers and students will be reduced, there will be an increase in average class sizes and the elementary schools will be required to continue with the existing math series. It would also require dipping into several funds including fees from revolving and stabilization funds.
"We will just try to maintain the education quality of instruction," said Kingston.
The cost for the "Roll-Ahead" budget would be $2 million more than what was spent in 2013 or about $800,000 above the fiscal '14 proposed budget.
• Under a bare-bones "Available Revenue Service" budget – which the schools will work with the current budget being proposed – nearly eight positions would be eliminated, services would be reduced across the board, it would require cost mitigation and even more crowded classes throughout the system while drawing down from various education reserve funds.
While deeming the current proposal "dire" for education, Kingston held up the prospect that a final state aid package and working closely with the Warrant Committee and Kale in uncovering "innovative" funding sources will soften the blow to Belmont's education.
While somewhat optimistic for this year, Kale presented to both schools and Selectmen an increasing number of "challenges" before the town in the next years including a growing laundry list of capital projects – the Underwood Pool, a new library and a renovated/new High School – and limits on future uses of certain revenue sources including the "free cash" rainy-day reserve fund which Belmont will once again take $2 million to assist in closing the budget gap.