Cutbacks this year are few – but big challenges loom

Welcome to the 2010-2011 school year in Hamilton-Wenham.

We are thrilled to be able to start off the year with some really great news — Boston Magazine has ranked our high school 12th on its list of the 50 best public high schools, up there with towns like Weston, Lexington, Wellesley and Concord-Carlisle. Congratulations to the students, teachers, administrators, town officials and hard-working parents who all contributed toward this very big honor.

Elsewhere, in cities and town all over Massachusetts, students are returning to schools that are reeling from teacher layoffs and deep cuts in services and supplies, yet this year Hamilton-Wenham managed to dodge the bullet.

How did that happen?

  • First and foremost, our teachers and other unionized school employees gave substantial contractual concessions – including NO cost-of-living increase — in order to balance the fiscal year 2011 school budget, and we sincerely thank them for that.
  • The school committee and school administration worked extremely hard to develop a budget with just a 1.0% increase in spending – a significant achievement given the number of non-negotiable fixed costs they must accommodate — and we thank them for that.
  • With encouragement from SOS, the Finance Committees and Boards of Selectmen from both towns worked for months to build budgets that allowed for a 2.5% "Fair Share" increase in the towns’ assessment to the schools, which helped avoid layoffs and program cuts, and we thank them for that. (Although the overall school budget rose by only 1%, the 2.5% increase in the towns’ assessment was needed to offset decreases in state funding.)
  • Voters at both town meetings – who ultimately have final approval over both town and school budgets — strongly supported the 2.5% Fair Share allotment, and we thank you all for that.

The end result: For the first time in many years, the school district has a budget that did not require significant cuts, all without an override in either town.

What’s next?

We have a new superintendent, a new assistant superintendent for finance and administration, a new curriculum director, and new faces on the school committee and the finance committees and select boards in both towns.

We are energized by everyone’s positive attitude and focus on improving communication and working on shared goals. We hope that they — and you, as parents and voters — will again support a Fair Share school funding allotment for fiscal year 2012 to keep our excellent system strong.

Finally, in recognition that many of our funding problems begin at the state level, SOS has been working for several months with citizens and officials from five North Shore towns on an initiative to stimulate judicial review of the state’s current public school funding structure. This project is still in early stages, but has the potential to dramatically change our district’s share of state funding for public schools. We expect to be able to provide more details later in the school year.

In the meantime, please keep reading our emails and follow us on Twitter (http://twitter.com/hwsos), and thanks for supporting our schools!

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