Shrewsbury superintendents share dire FY2021 forecast with School Committee

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By Melanie Petrucci, Senior Community Reporter

Shrewsbury – To say that the Fiscal Year 2021 budget forecast for Shrewsbury Public Schools is difficult would be an understatement. It was not looking promising before the COVID-19 pandemic but now the situation is “devastating,” according to officials. 

Dr. Joseph Sawyer, superintendent of schools, along with Patrick Collins, assistant superintendent for finance and operations, presented a report explaining the magnitude of the situation to the School Committee at their May 27 meeting.

“We hope that this overview and the specifics that Mr. Collins will present will help everyone who is viewing to understand the very difficult financial situation our school district will be in next year,” Sawyer stated.

The pre-COVID recommendation for FY2021 was $70,579,913 and the town manager’s recommendation was significantly less at $67,668,322. The district was already looking to cut $1.7 million from budget projections.

Collins shared that the $1.7 million reduction plan eliminates 28.6 full-time equivalent positions and significantly reduces materials, supplies, technology and transportation line items.

As a result of COVID-19, the district was looking to make additional reductions in the amount of roughly $2 million.

Sawyer then shared what he called a “double whammy” where they expect an additional $2.2 million in unanticipated costs associated with the pandemic. These costs include personal protective equipment, school building mitigation measures and costs related to the educational impact of school closures – pivoting to remote learning. 

“Combine those two things and you end up with a total of $4.2 million to $4.8 million as a new budget gap and I’m emphasizing that this in in addition to the $1.7 million that we already have as part of our budget plan for next year,” he continued.

Sawyer said that there are currently too many unknowns to present a plan for additional cuts to the educational program as state funding levels will not be known until sometime in July. 

Collins’ presentation echoed Sawyer’s but he delved into greater specifics. He reiterated the uncertainties surrounding federal stimulus, state aid and local receipts.

Unfortunately, Collins said that one of the complications is the uncertainty about staffing levels for the start of the school year and that there most certainly will be layoffs and furloughs.

This could be the equivalent of 65 to 75 teaching positions at an average salary of $65,000.

He emphatically said, however: “This is not our plan.”

Questions remain about the costs involved to educate medically fragile students who cannot return safely to school and covering staff absences in similar situations – personal or taking care of family members.  

He also said that there is not sufficient time or money to operate additional bus runs to accommodate social distancing or take temperatures before the school day begins.

He explained that Shrewsbury is eligible to receive $162,060 from the CARES Act – Direct Funding to Schools program. However, $28,240 will, by law, need to be shared with private schools. 

Shrewsbury will also be eligible for CARES Act – Funding/Reimbursement program. What that will entail remains to be seen.

Committee members agreed that the situation is very serious with serious implications for school in the fall.

“I appreciate the clear-eyed assessment of what is an extreme situation here in Shrewsbury and we are not strangers to difficult budget cycles and to even occasionally dire cycles but this is unlike anything we have confronted in many years,” noted Jason Palitsch, School Committee member.

Collins noted that a second reduction plan will be presented later in the budget process.