Mr. John McWane, Chairman, and members
Hamilton Finance Committee

Mr. Roger Kuebel, Chairman, and members
Wenham Finance Committee

Dear John, Roger, and committee members,

Support Our Schools has reviewed the FY 2012 budget the Hamilton Wenham Regional School District administration presented on March 3, 2011.

As you are aware, this proposed FY 2012 budget reflects level funding, for the first time in more than a decade, from the two towns. It also has approximately $250K in one-time federal stimulus funds and proposes the utilization of $125K from the pre-Kindergarten revolving fund to offset a projected 4% Chapter 70 decrease.

This FY 2012 budget reflects a 0.5% spending increase over the FY 2011 budget. We understand that District administration is currently projecting that actual FY 2011 spending will be approximately $1M less than the amount budgeted for this year.

While this is good news, we have concerns. Assuming these projections are accurate, the proposed FY 2012 budget would set spending at $1.2M over the FY 2011 projections. We note that this spending increase only includes approximately $250K for service improvements. The remaining spending increases relate to growth in current staff salaries, insurance, and benefits and taxes, over which the administration has little control.

Regarding news that the town finance committees and/or Boards of Selectmen may be discussing whether the town contributions to the District can decrease in FY 2012: We believe it would be imprudent to take such action based on a forecast for one year’s spending from a new administration. A decrease in contributions from the towns would require either (A) a reduction in the proposed (and existing) services or (B) the use of reserve funds to maintain proposed services. Based on our current understanding, SOS does not support either of these alternatives.

There are material risks in spending inherent in any school budget, particularly in the areas of teacher contract negotiations and Special Education, which is by its nature unpredictable. There are also significant revenue risks—both Chapter 70 and School Choice tuition could be meaningfully lower than expected. The finances of the Commonwealth are highly stressed and the level of future support is uncertain. The District has done well with Choice tuition, but our Choice tuition will likely be at risk as our aging facilities at the High School are compared by Choice students to the brand new facilities in Manchester-Essex and Beverly. Our FY 2012 revenues will be supplemented by non-recurring federal stimulus money and by the excess Pre-K tuition.

For the reasons referenced above, SOS will not support a decrease in town contributions, will vote against such a proposal if presented at town meetings, and will urge other voters to do likewise.

We would also like to remind you that there is continuing dissatisfaction in the overall amount of spending in the district, particularly on the issue of Middle School teams and Athletics and extracurricular user fees. Our NEASC accreditation remains at risk. SOS also has concerns about our school facilities and whether a sufficient amount has been budgeted for maintenance and capital spending to address water leaks in the high school, electrical issues in Cutler and other matters that our aging buildings are facing.

Like you, we look forward to the School Committee’s presentations on March 24 and April 7 responding to the operational audit, and we have every expectation that efficiencies can be gained in time for the FY 2013 budget cycle.

For FY 2012, the fact remains that school services are important to a large number of voters and town meeting participants. Any reduction in the contributions to the District will need to be well justified with a convincing analysis of the long-term implication of the action.

If the Finance Committees have a basis for concluding that a reduction the towns’ contribution is a prudent financial move that does not jeopardize the District’s mission, we would appreciate understanding it.

We look forward to seeing you at the public forum the School Committee will hold on the FY 2012 budget next Thursday, March 17, 2011. Thank you for your careful and objective consideration of our school funding requirements, and to all the fiscal matters of our two towns. We appreciate your hard work in these difficult times.

Respectfully,

Support Our Schools

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