HUDSON – With the bid for the busing contract received, the School Committee looked ahead to a tight fiscal 2025 budget and the future of busing costs at its Jan. 23 meeting.
The budget discussion was in anticipation of the Feb. 5 meeting in which the district would come before the Select Board.
What was driving the budget “deeper into a hole,” Superintendent Brian Reagan said, were factors out of their control, like a 48% increase for in-district transportation.
He said that kind of increase in costs would be difficult to absorb into a budget that was “just north of $50 million.”
The bus contract bid came in on Jan. 22, and while no recommendation was made regarding the bid, the committee discussed the numbers. Reagan said the projected 30% increase in the bus contract turned into a 48% increase when the bid was received.
In information provided by Finance Director Dan Gale, the contract cost for the 2024 fiscal year was $1.62 million. The 2025 bid results yielded a number of $2.41 million, which was $784,984 more than the 2024 figure and $297,437 more than the projected 30% increase.
For large buses, which totaled 13 in the bid, the rate per bus came in at $543. For the minibuses with a student monitor, the rate was $658 per minibus. Rounding out the numbers, the pre-kindgergarten midday buses were projected to be $126 per bus, and the summer use of buses would be $458 per bus.
“So that would be a $434,000 increase over the current year just for those yellow buses,” said Gale.
In addition, if the contractor obtained a bus lot for the district, there would be a $290,000 cost that would increase by 7% per year, according to Reagan.
The quote for bus storage, he said, just reinforced that they need to “dig down here and see what’s possible” for a solution. The conversation comes after recent discussions that the new Department of Public Works facility may not include the current storage space being used by the school district.
Reagan did note that they could go out and rebid the contract, and Gale said it would be easy to adjust the bid and try for a quick turnaround within a month.
Other factors were the cost of out-of-district tuition and the loss of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds that were received following the pandemic.
In budget discussions, Reagan said the positions of three adjustment counselors at the elementary schools, a second nurse at Farley Elementary School, an additional reading specialist at Mulready School and a districtwide board certified behavior analyst were funded by grants.
“We have positions that we’ve been funding under [ESSER] grants,” said Reagan. “We’re trying to maintain positions that we’ve had for multiple years that have been really critical to our schools.”
School Committee member Steven Sharek said that the positions previously funded by ESSER grants were essential.
“These positions are necessary to help children in the school district, and those children have names. They have futures, and their futures will be better with those positions in place,” said Sharek.
Reagan said the need for these positions factor into the “perfect storm” that they are heading into for the 2025 fiscal year budget process.
According to Reagan, the increase in the town appropriation from the last fiscal year is 2.25% versus the 2.75% they projected going in.
“That reduces our revenue from the town by between two or three hundred thousand dollars, and that’s significant as is every dollar in the budget,” said Reagan.
He said part of the job of the district central office and the School Committee is to “make sure the organization is as lean as it can be” in terms of budgeting. He believed the district is currently very lean.
Reagan said, “Outside of personnel, there’s nothing left to cut.”
Although there are some enrollment-driven changes they may be able to make, there was not a long list of unnecessary positions, he said. In some potentially positive news, Reagan said they would get their Chapter 70 transportation state aid numbers and be able to solidify that information.
“It may be very likely that we’re going to spend all of our reserve funds,” as well as school choice funds, said Reagan. They would have to use circuit breaker funds – which are used to offset the cost for students who need special services– in a different way for the 2025 fiscal year.
All of these factors and costs would set the Hudson School District up for a situation where a budget override may be needed so they would not have a deficit, according to Reagan.
He said the goal would be to address the use of the reserve funds and to “reinforce that with the Select Board that this is not a position the school department has been in before.”
In terms of addressing the financial situation, School Committee Chair Steven Smith said they should make sure that it comes across that they have reallocated positions and cut small costs in the past to meet the needs of the current students.
School Committee member Molly MacKenzie said the potential for a budget override needs to be presented so as to not “be disingenuous” about the budget.
“They’re all very aware of the situation that we’re facing,” she said.