Weston schools superintendent proposes 2.79% budget increase

Weston Schools Superintendent William McKersie presented a budget recommendation of $50,046,915 for fiscal year 2017-18 at a public presentation on Tuesday, Jan. 10.

That number is a 2.79% increase, $1,357,200 more than for the current fiscal year.

According to McKersie, 71% of the increase is due to contractual or health insurance increases. Other aspects driving the increase are “new investments” and “enrollment pressures.”

“When we worked on this budget, we based it on the district’s strategies and goals,” McKersie said.

He said the district’s four main goals are developing global citizens, providing a healthy learning environment, supporting digital learning, and gauging student progress with multiple measures.

“These are goals that the board has worked on for years,” said McKersie. “This is the framework for building this budget. Even at a 2.79% increase, this budget is frugal.”

McKersie said the proposed budget is largely a “maintenance budget” that “maintains the signature elements” of Weston schools.

“I hope the Board of Education and the town can embrace this budget,” he said. “I think this is a sensible budget for the next fiscal year.”

New investments

McKersie believes that bringing “Digital 1:1” to the middle school is a crucial component of the proposed budget. Digital 1:1 refers to each student having access to his or her own electronic device. The cost in the budget for 1:1 at the middle school is $210,705.

He said Digital 1:1 makes for a better use of instructional time and maximizes the efficiency of teachers, because all of the students are on the same page in terms of technology.  

“At the intermediate school we already have 1:1,” said McKersie. “There is a lot of good insight from that. A key part of this budget is expanding 1:1 to the middle school.”

Other technology investments in the proposed budget include $51,000 for new staff technology and science laptops, $55,450 for a “technology refresh,” $21,750 for new software, and $20,123 for implementing learning management systems.

The budget also includes $74,926 in staffing investments.

“A very focused and specific recommendation is to return the assistant principal’s position at Hurlbutt to full-time equivalent FTE 1.0,” said McKersie.

The position was reduced to .60 FTE when the school system anticipated a drastic reduction in enrollment at Hurlbutt, but subsequently enrollment has increased. Fiscal year 2018-19 is projected to see an increase of an estimated 15 students, giving a total of 459 students at Hurlbutt.

Despite Hurlbutt’s increase, overall enrollment at all four Weston schools is expected to decrease by 1% next year.

Defending the position upgrade, McKersie said assistant principals play an essential role in instructional leadership, school climate and operations and management.

He said Hurlbutt is currently the only elementary school in DRG-A (District Reference Group of similar towns) that has an enrollment higher than 370 students and doesn’t have a 1.0 FTE assistant principal.

The additional cost to upgrade the assistant principal at Hurlbutt is $55,374.

Other staffing investments include $11,398 for math intervention at the intermediate school, and $8,154 for assistant varsity coaches for cheerleading and girls basketball at the high school.

Capital budget

McKersie presented a capital budget request for $482,600. The largest expense was for $280,000 for air conditioning for 21 classrooms in Hurlbutt.

There’s also $35,000 for refinishing the high school gymnasium floor, and $60,000 for removal and replacement of an oil tank at Hurlbutt.

Other items include energy management, HVAC upgrades, and ceiling tile replacement at the middle school.

The Board of Education will review and vote on the budget proposal at its regular meeting, on Monday, Jan. 23.

The Board of Selectmen is then scheduled to review the budget on Tuesday, Feb. 7.

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