The Board of Education’s annual operating budget makes up more than 70% of the town’s total budget. Budget planning is primarily guided by the actual work and vision of the district, including the strategic plan and instructional agenda.
The formal process to develop, review, and finalize this budget spans more than 8 months of every year, from initial discussions in September through public hearings in March and April, to a final referendum in May for a full town vote. Throughout this process there are many opportunities for the public to learn more about how we arrive at this budget and to ask questions, all with the goal of transparency, clarity, and an understanding of where, how and why this money is being spent.
The process for the 2019-2020 operating budget officially began in September with administrators meeting to discuss budget needs for the following year, and developing a budget timeline, or calendar. This year’s budget calendar was adopted by the Board of Education (BOE) Finance Committee on October 23, 2018.
An important part of the planning process is the adoption of the Budget Assumptions created by the administration that identifies budget priorities prior to the final development of the actual budget recommendation. This guiding document allows everyone in our community to review the budget priorities before the BOE begins deliberation. The BOE discussed and reviewed these assumptions during public board meetings held in October and November, and formally adopted them on December 4, 2018.
Following the adoption of the Budget Assumptions, each district administrator is responsible for their local budget recommendation. For example, Mr. Salutari, DHHS Principal, submits the budget for the high school, and Dr. Battaglia, Director of Special Education, submits the budget for the special education program. Once these “local” budgets are proposed, the central office administrators organize all this information and convene a budget retreat during the month of December to determine their final budget recommendation. Administrators then reviewed this budget with the BOE Finance Committee during their public committee meetings on December 12 and 18, 2018.
Enrollment projections are another important factor in the budget planning process since BOE class size policy impacts the numbers of teachers needed. Birth rates from five years prior provide a base for projecting kindergarten enrollment, and for grades 1-12 we roll up the actual student numbers from the current year and include any new students into our schools over the summer.
The two most volatile areas in the budget are health care for employees and special education for students. Health care totals over 15% of the total budget, and since we are self-insured, our costs are almost exclusively based on the number and cost of actual claims. In past years we have seen significant fluctuations in health care costs, ranging from a 20% increase over one year, and then a flat budget last year. The district does have a “stop loss” policy, and a reserve fund with the town is maintained per Board of Finance regulation to protect from extreme claims. The special education budget is responsive to the needs of our most at-risk and disabled learners. As a result, based on frequent changes in student need, funds within the special education budget can fluctuate widely, posing challenges to financial planning. The special education budget accounts for nearly 20% of the overall Board of Education comprehensive budget.
Please visit the Board of Education website for more information on the budget and these upcoming public meetings:
- January 2 and January 8, 2019: Public budget workshops
- January 8 and January 22, 2019: BOE Budget Discussion and Vote
- February 5 and February 20, 2019: Approved BOE Budget goes to Boards of Selectmen and Finance
- March 6 and April 10, 2019: Final public budget hearings
- May 14, 2019: Town referendum