Finance Subcommittee Chairman Christine Casatelli and I appeared before the Appropriations Committee, with Committee Members Jessica Dugan and Jaime McAllister-Grande in attendance. My comments as follows:
Thank you Appropriations Chairman Mortimer, President Conn, and members of the Board of Aldermen for inviting us to speak to the FY17 Melrose Public Schools budget as approved by the Committee this past Tuesday, May 17th.
Supt. Taymore and her staff began this process in October, 2015 and she presented her initial budget to the Committee on February 23rd as a level-service budget. There was a $1M+ difference between the bottom line for that budget and what the city could responsibly provide the schools, and we still needed to provide teachers and materials for two additional Kindergarten classrooms and a part-time music teacher, fund our higher-than-anticipated transportation contract, and address stipends for co-curricular activities.
So the Supt. sharpened her pencil and took a wide variety of actions to close the gap, including:
· Reconfiguring content administrators by cutting 3 of 7 Gr. 6-12 Director positions and adding content facilitators in those areas to perform elements of the work
· Pre-paying some materials this year and cutting materials in other areas
· Freezing her salary and reducing administrator salary increases to 1%
· Removing requests for an elementary specialist in order to reduce current class sizes of 35 students in many art and music classes, and a technology position that would allow the new Learning Commons to remain open longer after school
· Pulling more money from reserve accounts that represent rainy day monies
· Raising fees for Education Stations, high school athletics, and elementary music lessons, and increasing Early Childhood Center tuitions.
· Reducing the salary increases we are able to offer teachers in the collective bargaining agreement that is currently being negotiated.
· Reducing the recommended increase in substitute teacher pay, even as we continue to struggle to hire subs given the low rate.
By this past Tuesday, a balanced budget was presented to the Committee and unanimously approved. Although unified in our vote, we articulated that this budget is no longer a level-service budget, but one that provides the basic services needed to provide students a quality education. Our district is high-performing; but we share the Superintendent’s vision of a school system where “…[we] meet the needs of every child without labeling them…[and our] staff…[has]…the capacity and resources they need to be flexible, adaptive, and proactive for children…” This budget will support improvement thanks to our outstanding students and families, dedicated and hard-working staff, and the financial support of the city, but we know needs remain, like curriculum materials, additional staff members, increased staff training, and higher pay for educators.
The Committee is made up of Melrose citizens and we recognize and appreciate your responsibility to provide for all city departments, and we respect the inability of the city to provide all the funds needed to realize our educational vision at the pace we’d like in the interest of student achievement. We vow to continue our advocacy at the state level to improve increased education funding for Melrose, and we ask for your support tonight of the FY17 budget for the Melrose Public Schools.
Thank you for all the work you do for the schools and for the city, and with that, we invite Supt. Taymore to respond to your questions.