School officials this week continued to massage a budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year in anticipation of ratifying the document following a public hearing scheduled for Jan. 27.
Originally presented in late December, the $37.5 million operational budget for fiscal 2021 reflects a 3.82 percent increase over the current year — and was reduced from a 4.9 percent increase in the original draft.
Described as “extremely thoughtful and deliberative” by school board Chairwoman Tina Belanger, the proposal is slightly higher than the 3.5 percent target for town-wide spending which selectmen established following a series of budget sessions last fall.
According to school Business Manager William Yukna, the biggest budgeting challenge remains responding to fluid enrollment at various grade levels and in different school buildings.
This scenario prompted a number of recommended staffing adjustments, which include eliminating a math teacher at the high school and three full-time teaching positions at the Ahern School, on top of several other part-time reductions.
The high school math position became a focal point earlier in Monday night’s school committee meeting, when a group of Foxboro High School students urged board members to reconsider — saying the complexities of upper-level math instruction require smaller class sizes.
But Yukna defended the recommendation, pointing out there are currently 10 math teachers at the high school while other core subjects have nine, while suggesting there is a disproportionate share of smaller (less than 20 students) math classes.
“This is not intended as a punitive thing with math,” he said.
Yukna also pointed out there is a full-time math tutor assigned to the high school, allowing struggling students to obtain 1-on-1 instruction if necessary.
“We have built-in resources to allow our students to have access to extra help,” he said.
Both Yukna and Superintendent Amy Berdos stressed that school officials have a duty to all taxpayers to be responsive to changing enrollments.
Also figuring largely in the fiscal 2021 budget calculus is a proposed $1.3 million net increase in special education spending, reflecting the addition of two teachers and a classroom aide, as well as rising out-of-district tuitions and transportation costs.
Yukna said school officials strive to retain special ed students in district whenever possible, where services can be delivered more efficiently and cost-effectively – an approach characterized as “sound decision-making” by board member Richard Pearson.
Even though the overall proposal exceeds the 3.5-percent target established by selectmen, committee member Rob Canfield pointed out the school department had still managed to reduce staffing.
“I think that’s the important message,” Canfield said.
In response, Yukna suggested that school officials must weigh different obligations when seeking voter approval for district spending.
“We don’t build our budget based on the selectmen’s approach,” he said. “We build it based on student needs.”
The fiscal 2021 budget proposed building-by building spending (instruction only) as follows:
Burrell School – $2,013,398 (+3.5%)
Igo School – $2,965,405 (+9.8%)
Taylor School – $1,950,511 (+11%)
Ahern School – $5,093,180 (-5.4%)
Foxboro High School – $6,033,073 (+3.6%)
In other areas, the budget balances incremental spending increases music, media, technology and transportation against minor reductions in art, health & phys ed.