The School Committee on Thursday, March 8, unanimously approved a $50.5 million budget for fiscal 2013, which provides for 15 new teaching positions.

School Committee logo

The committee also voted to approve:

-- The first day of school in the new calendar, which is Thursday, Sept. 6; and

-- The procedure for filling a committee vacancy should member Joseph Curro Jr. win election to the Board of Selectmen.

March 8 superintendent's budget presentation >>

Athletics, kindergarten fees discussed

Before voting on the budget of $50,534,524, the committee heard Diane Johnson, the schools' chief financial officer, say that the plan is "getting back to" the number of teachers in the district in fiscal 2010. The draft discussed March 1 proposed between 19 and 22 teaching positions, depending on the numbers discussed. In response, Linda Hanson, second vice president of the Arlington Education Association (AEA), urged the committee to "take a multiyear look at your vision." She declined to comment March 13m citing negotiations. 

Johnson provided those projections in a series of PowerPoint slides showing the impact of varying scenarios of annual cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) through fiscal 2016. The raises range from 0.5 percent to 2 percent. All lines on one chart showing four scenarios showed totals that are less than projected revenue growth, which was close to $57 million in fiscal 2016 (see page 10 of presentation >>).

"If we choose to add programs," member Jeff Thielman asked, "would we have to rearrange" the budget?

That will depend on the contract that is negotiated, Johnson said, referring to the chart showing the COLA scenarios.

Johnson noted the "invisible costs" involved in paying for teachers. These includes steps and lanes, increases in pay based on length of service and educational advances, as well as longevity.

"Teachers are expensive," she said, "and worth it."

Member Judson Pierce asked whether potential constructions for Arlington High School and Ottoson would affect the budget.

Bodie said that those items would largely be in the capital-planning budget, not the one for schools.

Discussion of the budget included fees for athletics and kindergarten.

The sports budget, revised by Ted Dever, director of athletics, has $22,000 more than reported previously. Superintendent Kathy Bodie said that would be used only after what has been set aside in the budget has been used. She said Dever's replacement plan for football includes 36 helmets.

As for kindergarten, Bodie presented the information, shown in the box below left, to illustrate that the $3,000 annual fee is in line with available funds.

Kindergarten fees, expenses
* FY11 per pupil amount is $12,922, which is 3.4% below the state average of $13,371

* Using this metric, the cost to the district for providing the optional half-day of kindergarten is $6,461 per pupil.

* Recipients of the kindergarten grant are allowed to charge up to $4,000 in fees for the full-day program. The average amount charged by recipients in FY11 was $2,857.

* Arlington presently charges $3,000 for the full-day program. This is 75% of the allowable fee and 46% of our actual costs.

Arlington's Per Pupil Expense

* DESE has developed per pupil expenditures as way to: "present a Massachusetts school spending data in a way that is comprehensive, comparable, and transparent to the general public."

* More information about how per pupil is calculated can be found here >>

What will our new AEA contract do to the budgets in future years?
To answer this question, several assumptions have been made.

With revenues:

* Town allocations will continue to grow at 3.5% for regular education and 7% for special education.

* Grants will decline by 3% each year.

* Fees and reimbursements will remain the same over time.

AEA Expense Assumptions

* For this analysis, only the cost of living adjustment (COLA) for the AEA contract changes after FY13.

* Steps, lanes and longevity are assumed to remain constant dollar amounts from FY13 through FY16.

* 70% of revenues beyond what is needed to maintain level service will be reinvested in new teaching positions each year.

* FY13 has been held to the scenario which was used to create a balanced budget proposal. This proposal, which includes steps, lanes, longevity and COLA, represents an increase of 3.9% to the teachers' salary base and an increase of 15 teaching positions.

Other Expense Assumptions

* Nonsalary expenses will increase 2% each year.

* 30% of revenues beyond what is needed to maintain level service will be reinvested in new nonteacher positions each year.

* FY13 has been held to the scenario which was used to create a balanced budget proposal. This proposal, which includes steps, longevity and COLA, represents an Increase of 2.5% to the nonteachers' salary base.

Still, looking ahead, the committee voted, 6-0-1, on a motion from the budget subcommittee to decrease the "expectation" of the kindergarten fee in the budget to $970,000 and to change the LABB collaborative credit expectation of $51,199. This means that, if budget conditions warrant, the committee could reduce the annual fee parents pay. The only reference to when that might occur was "later."

In a series of votes, all 7-0, the committee voted approval for seven sections of the fiscal 2013 budget. The plan must go to Town Meeting.

No one spoke at public participation. Those in the audience included Dick Fanning, who follows school budget matters for the Finance Committee, school candidates Matt Pallett and Ian Jackson as well as three reporters.

Filling an unexpired term

In the light of the fact that Curro is running for selectman and would not complete his School Committee term if he wins April 10, the committee approved a policy dealing with the issue. The vote was 6-0-1, with Curro abstaining.

Under the policy, the procedure to fill the seat may take place a week or more after the election, according to advice provided by Town Counsel Juliana Rice. The opening would be publicized, and interested candidates invited to apply.

School Calendar

Setting the first day of school was the first phase in establishing the 2012-13 school calendar. Bodie said the next phase is expected in late April. The Sept. 6 date is the first Thursday after Labor Day, a date followed for years under the teachers’ union contract.

In an open meeting, candidates would say why they want the seat and take questions from the committee. The chair may set a limit for candidate presentations.

A vote would continue until a majority of committee members agreed on one candidate. The chosen candidate would serve the remainder of the unexpired term.

March 4:Before $50m budget OK'd, union leader suggests looking at multiyear impact of staff additions

Jan. 26:First glimpse of fiscal 2013 budget

This story was first published Saturday, March 10, 2012, and updated March 13.