EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 7, 2013

Schools exceeded town manager budget allocation

By Dustin Luca
dluca@eagletribune.com

---- — ANDOVER — Next year’s budget for Andover’s school system is anywhere from $850,516 to $2.2 million in deficit from the town manager’s appropriation, with officials saying any further reductions spark compliance and strategic planning impacts.

Superintendent Marinel McGrath presented her budget recommendation for the coming fiscal year to the Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee last night. The request goes forward in a two-fold fashion: one budget reflecting the necessary cost increases to sustain “level services” compared to last year and not fall into legal compliance issues, and another to also add some “modest investments” to move the district forward.

THE NUMBERS, AT A GLANCE

Town Manager Reginald “Buzz” Stapczynski has allocated the department a 3.32 percent increase over its budget from last year, bringing it up to $68 million.

LEVEL SERVICES: McGrath’s “Level Service Budget” asks for $69.4 million, which includes the compliance-driven hiring of the equivalent of 21.97 full-time staff spread throughout the district.

These hires hit a number of areas, including special education driven hires at every school and English as a Second Language program hires. To meet the needs of the student community, these hires are required to keep the district in compliance, McGrath said. Overall, this budget reflects a 5.37 percent increase over last year.

STRATEGIC PLAN: Her “Strategic Plan Budget” asks for $70.3 million, which includes the 21.97 hires and the equivalent of 13.05 full-time staff to satisfy new program needs, bringing the total number of hires to approximately 35.02.

The additional requests involve expanding the district’s middle school music program and hiring or expanding the past hires of three different program advisers. Overall, this budget reflects a 6.7 percent increase.

The department also requests a disputed source of revenue originating from an unexpected state appropriation last year worth $500,000 originally earmarked for education, which could lower the cost of either budget proposal if given to the schools this year.

SPECIAL EDUCATION GROWTH TARGETED

The district’s growing need for expanding its special education resources frequently came up at the meeting, with some alarmed by how fast it has increased in cost.

Over the last five years, the town has spent less money on out-of-district costs, brought on by students who must get their education outside of the school system due to special needs, according to School Committee member Dennis Forgue.

But overall, special education costs have still skyrocketed when compared to other towns in the state, according to Finance Committee Chairman Jon Stumpf.

From 2002 to 2011, such costs in Andover went up 8.1 percent, when the state-wide average rose 2.4 percent, Stumpf said. That reflects a 350 percent increase over the state average.

”One of the things we also have to remember is people choose to move to Andover,” School Committee member Annie Gilbert said. “They might choose to move to Andover, and I’m certain they do, because we have outstanding Special Ed programming.”