By James Niedzinski
---- — MANCHESTER — Officials concede that it is still early in the fiscal 2014 budget process, but the tentative budget for the Manchester Essex Regional School District is showing a 6 percent increase — fueled by a projected hike of more than 10 percent for district salaries.
Pamela Beaudoin, superintendent and Avi Urbas, finance director for the district, made their preliminary presentation to the School Committee during their Tuesday night meeting.
According to Urbas’s report, the tentative budget for fiscal year 2014, which begins next July 1, calls for spending $21,279,147, an increase of $1,211,531, or 6 percent, from the current year.
The budget document also indicates that Manchester will account for 63.28 percent ($10,906,880) of the towns’ assessment, with Essex picking up the rest of the tab at 36.72 percent, or $6,329,146. The remaining amount, $2,562,774, is set to largely be covered by Chapter 70 state funding.
Urbas said there have been increases in state funding in the past, but this year might be different. The official numbers for Chapter 70 are due in January, he said.
”There is really no guarantee state aid will continue to grow after two major years of adjustments,” he said.
The vast majority of the spending increase is tied to salary increases for staff and faculty under retroactive terms of a new teachers’ contract, Urbas indicated. In all, the line item for salaries is pegged to rise by a 10.4 percent spike, or $1,320,561, under the tentative budget for fiscal year 2014.
Beaudoin said the tentative budget for 2014 includes cost of living adjustments for both 2013 and 2014 fiscal years. The Manchester Essex Teachers’ Association did not to take any COLA increase for the fiscal 2012 budget, and contracts were still in negotiations at the time the fiscal 2013 budget was put in place.
Jeffrey Bodmer-Turner, the association president, said in a phone interview Wednesday that the 2013 increase in the cost of living adjustment reflects about a 4 percent increase in more time worked for staff and faculty.
Other aspects of the budget project a saving for the next fiscal year. For one thing, the district expects to save about $139,000 because of in-house special ed program developments that will save on sending students out of the district.
Additionally, because the district has become more environmentally friendly, the district is projected to save about $133,000 on utility contracts.
Beaudoin noted that there are still many public forums and discussion to take place before the budget is finalized in February, adding that she would like to see a great turnout and public input for the next discussion, set for Dec. 12 at 7 p.m. in the high school.
Donna Smith, the nurse of Essex Elementary School, added her input to the budget discussions Tuesday night.
Saying she was appearing on behalf of Cyndi Aldrich, the nurse of Manchester Essex Regional Middle/High School, she asked town officials for more help.
”I respectfully request that you support any budget consideration more nursing staff in the middle/high school,” Smith said. “I respectfully request that you do not allow any staff cuts.”
She said Aldrich’s workload has increased as children with more complex health problems will be making their way into the school. Smith added that, while grant-funded nurses occasionally help with mandatory health screenings, Aldrich’s workload is just too great, encompassing the health needs of the entire school, or about 850 students.
School Committee members agreed, and while Beaudoin said could not guarantee anything at the meeting, she said she will approach specific staffing needs as the budget talks continue.
”The reality is ... we’re not all going to be where we want to be next year,” she said.
James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at email@example.com.