Editor’s note: Superintendent Bill Olsen gave a presentation on what’s involved in creating a budget for a school district. He coined the presentation “School Finance 101.” Despite the title, Olsen’s power point presentation on February 22 was a deep dive into rules and regulations, funding sources, how school start times and bussing schedules impact the budget, and many other factors that challenge a town like Westford, known in Massachusetts for its outstanding reputation.
Q. How is the state accounting for COVID related changes in our enrollment impacting our state aid?
A. Great question. The state has a hold harmless provision. They understand succinctly that the state has lost many students to either home schooling or gone to private schools…the state recognizes that and is basically holding chapter 70 aid harmless not showing a precipitous decline for any communities in state aid for any communities in state aid.
Q. How does the school budget appropriation increase compared to nearby districts, and other town departments.
A. I can’t tell you how it compares to other school districts because they all have their own fiscal plan parameters. No district…none of the other town departments are really funded any higher than the 1.4 (percent). In fact in some cases probably less. As all of you know it’s a very difficult revenue year. Just the hotel and restaurant (revenues) is down by $500K from prior years. No one was eating in restaurants no one was occupying hotels.
Q. …the question is when we were talking about start times in the past, why didn’t we talk about a four tiered model? How is the administration assessing the potential impacts to the staff based on a four-tiered model?
A. If you keep in mind the graph, the new graph of the town and then that subsequent graph of our appropriations…we’ve had three years in a row of reducing our budget. Some of those were scaling in staffing. So we’ve been whittling away at budget reductions, we’ve cut a lot from our budget…we’re facing now 1.4 percent for next year. It’s either going to come out of programs and people…In my conversations with all of you…class size was an extraordinarily important priority. If we don’t have our tiered bussing then we get into class size. We get into programs and staffing.