Is anyone listening? March 20, 2023
At the Selectmen’s Meeting of March 15th, there was scheduled to be a joint meeting with the School Committee to hear the 2023-2024 Budget Presentation for the district.
Two members of the School Committee were present, not a quorum for their portion of the joint session. The presentation went along as planned and was repeated at the School Committee Public Hearing of Monday, March 13, 2023.
While the largest increase to the school Budget has been acknowledged to be Special Education, it is important to realize that the SPED increase has been mandated by the Commonwealth according to the School Committee. There is an increase of 10% for Educational Collaborative Tuitions and 14% for MA Non-Public & Out-of-State Tuitions.
School Officials acknowledge these increases are not sustainable and there are behind the scenes (lobbyists) working the legislature to cap these increases but so far no good news on that front. The result is we are responsible. We are meaning the entire Town of Seekonk.
The School Committee says that 31% of their operating budget is dedicated to Special Education.
When all is said and done, the Town Administrator has advised with the number the district is asking for, the Town is left to find an estimate of $720,000 to balance the budget before Town Meeting though we have not heard the complete municipal side of the budget as of this writing.
If there is a shortage to be absorbed, it should be shared. The amount no matter what it is should not be carried by town services alone.
School Administration will tell you they are “only” asking for 2.98% for local aid and that may be true, however, the entire budget package of $30 million plus is 4.06%. That is the asking price tag you will hear at town meeting. Nothing less.
Further, when School Administration can afford to shift money to pay for capital items from their operating budget something is off. It sends the message that the original appropriation for operating the School District was over calculated.
As an example, In the FY2022 budget $178,246 was spent from the operating budget we approved at Town Meeting, at the High School’s newly created Transitions Academy. It was labeled as “shortfall” and *unbudgeted repairs”. They also spent $64,429 on the Turf Field project for a storage shed/concrete slab, electrician and tree removal. Next question, didn’t the Selectmen also give $113,000+ from town resources to finish the project? What was the amount the town approved for that project?
The bigger question is “where was this money appropriated at the beginning of FY2022” There must have been a need for it somewhere else if they asked for it.
Utilizing operating money to pay for capital expenses is a slippery slope and should not happen. The proper action would have been to warrant town meeting for approval to spend from resources available. Not the operating budget where annual increases are calculated. Capital money is not to be utilized to calculate a budget increase. What is worst, the townspeople do not know it unless the information is asked for annually by a resident.
The practice of spending operating money on capital items may not be confined to just this School Administration but it effects the way business is conducted within our government and it has to stop. The cost of Education does not need to drain Town resources in order to obtain better grades from students. A lot of Alumni from the Seekonk School’s have gone on to very successful business careers and it was done with a lot less.
A suggestion to Administrators is to protect the 31% for SPED. Look within the 69% remaining to make even the smallest of cuts because they add up. Offer something. Do not do nothing!
If they must work a fiscal year without colored pamphlets and super charged mailings than communicate to parents electronically. Save on paper. Post news in the newspaper. If they have to work with fewer new pens, save on supplies. If the Town is required to reduce clerical service than maybe School Administration should as well. Reduce a position within the clerical service in the Business Office.
If this Town has to tread water and wait for lobbyists to do our bidding with the capping of costs of SPED through legislature we are a sinking ship.
No matter what some will say, we are not a city. We are the Town of Seekonk and until that changes we need to speak out about the rising costs put on the backs of our residents. Stop pushing people out of their homes because of affordability to live here.
Here’s hoping for the best for FY23-24.
Seekonk Warrior Class of 1977 and proud of it.
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