Westfield needs to cut $700K from school budget

Westfield City Hall (Photo courtesy: The Westfield News)

WESTFIELD, Mass. (The Westfield News) – The Finance Sub-Committee held a brief meeting before the regular School Committee meeting on Monday, to vote on a target number for the Westfield Public Schools FY17 budget. The $59,625,602 level service budget that was presented at a public hearing last week was nearly $1.75 million over FY16, due to increases in fixed costs.

Finance Sub-Committee chair Kevin Sullivan said that the 3% increase is not possible for FY17, “although it would have been nice,” he added.

“The level service essentially mirrors everything in place,” said Superintendent Suzanne Scallion at the meeting.

She said there are still unknown factors, such as the possible savings from staff who are retiring. The budget reflects an offset from 15 retiring staff, but she said right now the number is at 25.

“It’s clear that there will be a lot of fluctuation with this budget right up to June 30,” Kevin Sullivan said.

Sullivan then proposed that the district set the FY17 budget at $58,900,000, which represents a more than $700,000 cut from the level service budget.

“It’s a fair number and a realistic number,” Sullivan said.

Scallion said the district would do their best to minimize cuts, and said Human Services director Jennifer Willard has prepared a ratio of staffing in each building for review. She added that she remains concerned about the pressing tech needs in the schools, and urged the city to approve a tech bond.

“I wish we had more money to give you guys. You do a great job every year,” said School Committee vice chair Ramon Diaz, Jr. A motion was made and passed to present the School Committee a FY budget of $58,900,000.

During the regular School Committee meeting that immediately followed, Mayor Brian P. Sullivan said he did have a discussion with the administration on a number he thought was appropriate, but he decided not to put his figure out there along with the district presentation.

“The number that we’re approving tonight is right in the ballpark,” Mayor Sullivan said, adding that he hopes that the City Council will do the same thing. I hope they give enough credit that the Westfield Public Schools gave us a real number, and the School Committee gave a real number,” he added.

“At the Finance Sub-Committee, we went line by line, and we asked a lot of questions. We thoroughly looked at the budget from top to bottom,” said School Committee member Jeffrey Gosselin, referring to the meeting that was held on April 27.

“The unique thing about a school budget is that we turn over our employees only one time a year – hundreds of employees,” Scallion said.

“Every year we have gone line by line, that’s what we do,” responded School Committee member Cynthia Sullivan. She said the School Committee looks at positions, not people. “This committee does not make those decisions,” she added.

“The hardest part for us isn’t the numbers, it’s that these are the livelihoods of some very caring people,” Scallion said.

The new FY17 budget of $58,900,000 passed the School Committee unanimously. They then set another special meeting for next Monday at 6:30 p.m. for the committee to go through the revised budget. If it passes, the budget will then be presented to the Mayor and the City Council.

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