The Belmont Board of Selectmen and School Committee gave their "thumbs up" to next fiscal year's School District budget, an increase of nearly one-and-a-half million dollars from last year's allocation.
The fiscal 2013 budget – the first under the leadership of interim School Superintendent Dr. Thomas Kingston – now tops the $43 million plateau at $43,068,492, an increase of 3.6 percent from the fiscal '12 budget of $41,583,768.
The budget does not include approximately $200,000 the school department expects in Special Education expense increases in the coming year. That amount is expected to be paid from a new $250,000 Special Education Stabilization Fund to be created by a two-thirds vote of representatives at a special Town Meeting within the reconvened Town Meeting beginning May 14.
Unlike recent years, the initial deficit in this year's budget between the available revenue set aside for the schools and the proposed "level" service expenditures – funding to maintain current levels of education – was a "manageable" $509,000, according to Kingston.
At the School Committee's meeting held last night, April 24, at the Chenery Middle School, Committee member Kevin Cunningham gave an overview of the budget process and the final budget which was in balance after months of negotiations between the triad of School Committee, Selectmen and Warrant Committee.
See a pdf file on the process and the final budget numbers on this web page.
The final deficit gap of zero "is a good place to be," observed Cunningham.
As she stated at the morning meeting of the Board of Selectmen, School Committee Chairwoman Laurie Graham said while grateful for the commitment from all town officials in closing the funding shortfall before Town Meeting, she emphasized the point that she and committee members have heard from the community, "on the streets and in the soccer fields" that a level service goal is "not meeting the concerns or address the needs" of staffing throughout the district, especially at the Middle School and High School.
Graham said that a discussion how available revenue is being distributed to all departments should be held in an effort to allow a funding allocation that allows the schools to effectively educate district students.
Currently, the Town Meeting approves a set ratio, dubbed "the split", which allocates a certain percentage of all available revenue to general government – the town – and the school department. The current split is at 58 percent for schools and 42 percent for the town.
The school department has a number of "enhancements" which it would fund with additional revenue including a new kindergarten-to-fourth grade math program costing $200,000.