By Steven Fletcher
Gloucester's public school district has put forward its fiscal 2013 budget proposal, asking for an increase of more than 5 percent to maintain this year's services and expand what school officials say are critical programs.
The proposal calls for a $1.9 million — or roughly 5.73 percent increase — over this year's $33.7 million spending plan, according to budget documents from the district's business office.
More than half that increase is for non-salary increases, including a proposal to expand the district's Bay State Reading Initiative (BSRI) curriculum to all elementary schools, and to cover out-of-district special education tuitions.
The rest of the projected hike goes toward salary increases, including a budgeted 1 percent cost-of-living increase, a new third-grade teacher at Beeman Elementary, and the cost of covering reduced or eliminated federal and state grants.
"I'm not going to rule it out of court yet," City Council Budget and Finance Chairman Paul McGeary said of the $35.6 million budget Thursday, "but it's a long shot."
While a 5 percent increase is a good chunk of change, McGeary said, the city won't know how it can fund schools or other departments until it gets a handle on fiscal 2013 revenues. The council, he said, may have been a might too conservative for this year. Fiscal 2012 runs through June 30, while fiscal 2013 begins July 1.
The district has set its projected level funding line $524,000 higher than the fiscal 2012 budget. Those added fiscal 2102 dollara, said School Committee member Kathy Clancy, came from the city's municipal surplus, or free cash, this year.
Clancy said the district also built in what free cash dollars it used for recurring expenses, with $249,667 of that covering the potential 1 percent staff cost-of-living increases.
Superintendent Richard Safier said the district has not negotiated contracts yet, but has that money in reserve if necessary.
Overall, salaries are projected to rise 3.7 percent in the district's budget; that's $868,781. Much of that increase comes from shifting positions that used to be covered by grants and Gloucester Education Foundation (GEF) programs into the school district budget, said Safier.
The district is also out $480,000 in grants and GEF funding this year. A good three-quarters of that, $301,668, comes from the loss of the federal Education Jobs grant. Safier said the district also aims to pull in $94,000 of positions funded through GEF grants into the 2013 budget.
"There are simply a lot of revenue streams that have been reduced or eliminated," Safier said.
The district's preliminary budget also projects $131,895 for known "step and track" increases for teachers, whose existing contract includes built-in raises depending on length of service and degree of education.
Safier said the district haso proposed adding several positions this year — one third-grade teacher at Beeman Elementary School, and reading consultants along with the BSRI curriculum at West Parish, East Gloucester and Plum Cove.
Clancy said the projections make up for some $1.9 million in cuts to achieve level funding for this school year. The schools, she said, lost 46 positions last year.
The 2013 budget projections retain services and broaden what Clancy called "critical programs."
Retaining non-salary services carries a projected $1.09 million increase, with $180,000 of that going toward the BSRI program expansion — something Safier said needs to be in all elementary schools. The district added the program to Beeman and Veterans in 2011.
The district also expects out-of-district special education tuition costs to increase by $262,858, and transportation costs to go up $113,894. The rest of the increase would go toward restoring curriculum and supplies to provide level services for kindergarten through grade 12 throughout the system.
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.