Last night's School Budget 101 forum, hosted by the Melrose Education Foundation, the Melrose Public Schools, and the City of Melrose was an enlightening look into sources of revenue for the city and schools, along with expenditures for both. Some key financial goals include maintaining a balanced city budget (required by law) and one that is stable (employing the policy that no more than 5% of the city budget is devoted to loan payments on our bonds), while using bonded money to pay for one-time expenditures only (so that we aren't borrowing money to meet day-to-day expenses). Challenges for our city include managing expenditures given limited opportunities to expand revenue, health care costs, moving toward a greener/cleaner energy protocol, maintaining pension system funding, managing our debt/bond rating, regionalizing to maximize efficiencies, being aggressive about state grants, and being innovative (like privatizing trash and having the DPW absorb the schools' custodians).
On the school side, 86% of expenditures are for staff salaries while 10% are for contracted services (like special education tuitions/transportation), 2% is for athletics, 1.5% is for supplies and materials, and the rest is for technology. Managing a tight budget means working to add revenue (like instituting school choice and renting facilities), and creatively addressing costs (like reorganizing some paraprofessional staff and charging fees to pay for part of music and athletics expenses). Challenges include addressing unfunded mandates (like collecting state-required data and aligning our curriculum with the Common Core); using technology in teaching and learning (adding technology for the new PARCC exams, paying for software licenses, etc.); training teachers to do all of the above and more; and the uncertainty around special education budgeting. Additional pressing needs include providing teachers more time to work and learn together (since that is proven to increase student achievement), social/emotional support for students (by way of school adjustment counselors), and infrastructure at Melrose High School.
Learn more! Check out the Powerpoint here: http://mayordolansblog.wordpress.com/2013/12/04/school-budget-forum-the-presentation/#more-3057 and watch for the replay of the forum on MMTV. Then come to the School Committee meeting on January 14th where you are invited to share where you would like to see district money spent in the FY 15 budget.
Margaret Raymond Driscoll is a nine-year Melrose School Committee member who is passionate about excellent teaching and learning for all public school students, and considers it a privilege to collaborate with others who share that passion. You can also follow her on Twitter at @MargaretDrisc. Just to be clear - opinions expressed here do not represent those of the Melrose Public Schools, the Melrose School Committee, or the Massachusetts Association of School Business Officials - they are hers alone.