By Steven Fletcher
The Gloucester Public School District is projecting an operating budget increase of between 5 percent and 6 percent for fiscal 2013, which begins July 1, with an eye toward maintaining services, school officials say.
The district's preliminary budget projection sets the fiscal 2013 operating budget at a high of $35.8 million, and a low of $35.5 million — some $1.8 million to $2.1 million up from this year's $33.7 million spending plan.
Much of the fiscal 2013 increases, according to the projection, come from staff salary increases and collective bargaining settlements. The rest comes from anticipated cuts in federal aid, and increases in special education services and curriculum materials costs.
"You try to protect educational core, that's key. That's what we're trying to do," said Superintendent Richard Safier.
Safier said the district would also like to expand reading programs in the elementary schools through the Bay State Reading Institute, already at Beeman and Veterans elementary schools, as well as add mathematics coaches. The additions, he said, would improve the district's educational program.
Gloucester's Chapter 70 state aid, according to the state Department of Revenue "cherry" sheet for the city, is being projected at this point to stay at the $5.75 million the city received for fiscal 2012, though Gov. Deval Patrick last week announced a proposed hike in Chapter 70 aid for cities and towns.
The city's school choice tuition to other school districts, taken out of the Chapter 70 aid, is expected to increase in the new fiscal year, while the state reimbursement for the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School will once again decrease.
Thomas Markham, district chief financial officer, said the increase retains staff and services, and doesn't expand the school district's educational program. Markham put together the projections.
"This rolls forward what we already have," said Markham.
The school district is projecting an $192,886 increase in salary step and track raises, and an expected $255,194 in collective bargaining settlements — on top of $249,667 in settlement increases from fiscal 2012.
Those increases make up roughly a third of the district's projected level service increase. But, the district is not expecting an increase in health insurance costs from this fiscal year, according to the preliminary budget figures.
The school district is also cutting a roughly $100,000 position this year as well. With Assistant Superintendent Brian Tarr retiring at the end of the school year, Safier said the district won't fill his position. He's beginning the search process for a new assistant superintendent for curriculum and a new special education director, with Shayne Trubisz and JoAnne Reiss retiring from those positions as well.
The proposed increases also include roughly $163,000 in curriculum materials costs as well. Those costs are spread out over all seven schools, and don't include $52,262 spent on the third payment of the Pearson Reading Street materials that the district implemented at several elementary schools. The district budged around $10.4 million for materials and other non-salary items in fiscal 2012.
Gloucester schools are also projected to face several increases in special education costs.
Markham's projection states that the district expects a 4 percent increase in mandated out-of-district special education tuition costs, a boost of roughly $133,447. It also expects a 10 percent hike in transportation costs for special education students. Markham's projects show the district's special education contingency costs could range from $75,000 to $300,000.
Markham's projection states that the district will have to assume the costs of a $300,000 education jobs grant. That one-time grant came out of the federal stimulus money, and thus will not be part of the district's revenue stream for fiscal 2013. Gloucester's schools also expect to see a decrease of between $31,000 and $63,000 in federal Title 1 aid.
"Grants tend to go down, and you have to pick up the tab in your operating budget," said Safier.
Despite Patrick's push to raise Chapter 70 funding, the formula, Safier said, may not bring any of that to Gloucester.
A projected $1.3 million of that aid will be steered to the charter school in 2013, depending on the school's enrollment. Gloucester also sees another $1.3 million lost in school choice sending tuition, though it projects to bring in about $162,593 in school choice revenue.
The city sends $5,000 of its Chapter 70 aid to other school districts for each student who has opted to go to school in another district.
By comparison, Rockport Public Schools will see an estimated $792,676 in school choice funding, up from last year. Manchester Essex Regional, which closed off school choice last year because its schools were at capacity, projects drawing a total of $616,421 in school choice money through continuing students.
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.