School officials start budget review: Landon cites 'reasonable' 3.75% hike
The board reviewed line items included in the $113,294,493 budget unveiled Monday by Superintendent of Schools Elliot Landon for the 2015-16 fiscal year.
Landon said he was "quite pleased" with a spending package that has an increase of 3.75 percent over this year. "That's reasonable in light of what's happening county-wide," he said.
"Our collective goal is to hear from the administration and remind us why (budget items) are strategic to the district," Michael Gordon, the school board chairman, said at the start of the session.
He also said "strategic planning by the board and leg-work by the administration" has resulted in a "very responsible" budget. "It's a budget that is academically on the cutting edge, but fiscally very lean," Gordon said.
There was discussion among board members concerning the importance of school psychologists and other counselors and extracurricular activities.
Board member Mark Mathias noted that the school system does "more than educate, we protect" during a discussion of the school system's counseling staff. "Film on glass and locks on doors" help keep out external threats, he said. "What we do to prevent internal threats is remarkable," he added.
Amounts budgeted for that staff include $1.65 million for psychologists, $1.4 2 million for school counselors and $286,171 for social workers.
The board also discussed stipends for extracurricular activities and the discussion strayed into whether all students are active in all the programs offered.
"We try to train kids to deal with setbacks and to enjoy their successes," said Landon. He said "everyone is invited to join clubs," but sometimes there's not room for all who want to join.
He cited the Staples Players as an example. "Only so many kids can get lead roles, but you can still be part of the crew -- you can still participate."
Mathias said that besides the school system, there are many other opportunities for children outside of school to join a group or organization.
Stipends for extracurricular activities include: $203,361 for the elementary schools, $323,809 for the middle school and $215,912 at the high school.
Board member Paul Block said that at about $6,000 per activity, it's "an efficient and focused expenditure."
"It brings supreme value and makes sense to expand this area," he said. "We maybe even are under-spending here."
Elio Longo, the school system's business manager, wants to hire an additional employee in his office to help with operations and financial guidance. The position is budgeted at $85,000.
Longo said he's looking for someone with an "extensive business background" with experience in school accounting or financing.
The board agreed Longo has taken on broader responsibilities since taking over the position in July 2013, and Gordon said he supported the request based on Longo's performance.
The board didn't discuss the budget's line items for employee benefits, including the health and medical insurance account budgeted for $15,424,785, an increase of $198,000.
That will be discussed, instead, at a Jan. 13 meeting where the board's insurance consultant will review the accounts. Members of the Board of Finance and Representative Town Meeting have been invited to attend.