Shrewsbury superintendent declares district an ‘education emergency’

1622

Shrewsbury Public School logo - School budget facing an emergency according to superintendent.District faces nearly $5 million gap; opening of new Beal School in jeopardy.

By Melanie Petrucci, Senior Community Reporter

Shrewsbury – The Shrewsbury Public Schools District is facing an “education emergency” as it faces a nearly $5 million deficit, according to Dr. Joseph Sawyer, the superintendent of the Shrewsbury Public Schools. Sawyer shared that dire news in a lengthy presentation on the District’s fiscal year (FY) 2022 budget at the Feb. 10 School Committee meeting.

The budget

Sawyer’s recommended budget for FY 2022 is $75,440,214 which is a 10.95% increase over FY 2020 in the amount of $7,444,931.

Town Manager Kevin Mizikar’s recommended budget is $70,552,000 which leaves a $4.9 million gap.

“This budget comes with a simple recommendation: 1. To maintain the current staffing levels and programs we have in place now and 2. To open the new Beal [Elementary] School as planned,” Sawyer stated.

The problem

“…Our school district is facing an education emergency,” Sawyer said. “…I try not to be hyperbolic in my approach…It is because this is what I determine based on my best professional judgement is the situation we find ourselves in.”

Sawyer reminded the committee that in order to open the new Beal School adding new staff is required to implement the elementary school redistricting plan and provide full day kindergarten.

Historical perspective

He said that the community has struggled with the structural funding dilemma for years. But reducing the school’s resources next year, coupled with the pandemic, will compound the educational damage that has been done.

He noted that this budget does not restore the $1.9 million in budget cuts made in FY 2021 when 30 staff positions were cut.

Patrick Collins, assistant superintendent operations & finance, added, “Several reports over the past 15 years all have shown that the structural funding gaps we continue to experience have been and continue to be predictable. The magnitude of the budget crisis we face for the coming year is not a result of the COVID crisis, but rather a product of the structural funding issues of our town government.”

The disparity

“We are extraordinarily cost efficient and we spend well, well below what typical school districts spend on a per pupil basis,” Sawyer remarked.

Sawyer illustrated the disparity between Shrewsbury being in the bottom 11 percent of all districts in spending but is in the top 20% for income and top 14 % for property value.

The need

Collins shared their “Status Quo” budget equaling $73,747,379 which is a budget increase of $5,752,096 or 8.46 %. This amount maintains all current personnel and programming.

The additional funding needed to open Beal is $1,692,835 for 32.5 new full time equivalent staff.

He informed the committee that this year’s budget does not include any COVID-19 funding although they do expect to receive some assistance but because it is one-time money, they did not want to put it in the budget.

Impacts if cuts are necessary

Elementary redistricting may be deferred and the new Beal School may open with only the existing Beal staff “which would be deeply disappointing,” Sawyer said.

Additionally, the district would lose the equivalent of 48.5 full time existing staff to make up the remaining deficit.

The solution

According to Sawyer, the community needs to come together to consider putting an operational override before the voters. His views were overwhelmingly supported by the committee.

School Committee chair Sandra Fryc will communicate with the Board of Selectmen to schedule a meeting to discuss the possibility of placing a Proposition 2- ½ operational override vote before the voters.