GRAFTON, Mass. — Superintendent of Schools James Cummings unveiled a preliminary $26.74 million school budget for fiscal year 2014, a 7.7 percent increase from 2013. He warned the school committee Monday an $850,000 funding gap exists because of limited federal, state and local government resources.
With no stimulus money, a growing student enrollment, and a new high school, making the new budget will be a challenge, Cummings said.
“Our needs are going to, most likely, outpace our means,” Cummings told the school committee. “It’s going to be exceptionally challenging to fund even a level service budget given the current fiscal realities.”
The 7.7 percent increase is driven by several factors:
- Rising enrollment in special education, which translates into expensive state-mandated services;
- An increase in utility and building maintenance costs, which Cummings said were delayed last year but must be addressed in 2014 to protect the taxpayers' investment in the new high school;
- With district enrollment projected to increase by 232 students in three years, there is a need for an additional three full-time teachers to maintain a healthy student-teacher ratio;
- The need for a half-time school nurse at Millbury Street Elementary, which has the largest elementary grade population;
- A full-time social worker is also needed for the district, which Cummings said will be partially funded with a grant.
In meetings with the town administrator, Cummings said the big question is the amount the district will receive in Chapter 70 funding, the state aid to all public schools, and federal funds.
“Those are big, big variables that if they are reduced, Grafton and every other district will be significantly affected,” he said.
Cummings expects the state piece of the financial puzzle to be defined in the weeks to come.
The school committee was overwhelmingly in favor of the new budget, commending Cummings for being able to open a new school on a lean 2013 budget.
“I really believe that every item you mentioned in this budget is so necessary,” said Vice-chairperson Peter Carlson. “It reflects the necessities of the district.”
Secretary Teri Turgeon agreed. “We went without some things last year,” she said, pointing out the nursing shortage at Millbury Street Elementary School as an example.
After feedback and a budget book are assembled, there will be a budget hearing on Jan. 28 followed by a school committee vote.