Sunday, March 29, 2009

Letter from Ed Cafasso

Hello Everyone!

Here’s an update Franklin’s school budget issues based on the administration’s budget presentation to the School Committee this past Tuesday evening.

A “level service” budget for the schools for the next fiscal year would total $53.8 million. That amount would preserve current personnel and programs and cover cost increases for teacher salary hikes and step changes; healthcare, special education, and transportation services. However, due to a decline in state and local revenues, the schools are being asked to create a “level-funded” of approximately $50.3 million, roughly the same amount as the current Fiscal 2009 budget.

This means that $3.5 million in reductions must be achieved in order to present a balanced budget for the schools by July 1. So far, some $600,000 in savings has been identified in the form of health insurance changes; a wage freeze voluntarily agreed to by 51 non-union school employees; and, an increase in circuit breaker reimbursement from the state.

That leaves a gap of $2.9 million. State and federal stimulus funds for the schools could total $773,000, bringing the projected school budget deficit down to $2.2 million. However, the exact amounts of stimulus aid are still a question mark, and there are reports that state lawmakers may decrease the town’s local aid payments by the same amount.

On Tuesday night, the School Committee asked the teacher’s union to agree to a wage freeze for this year. If all unionized school employees agreed to forgo the 2.5% salary increase they are scheduled for this year, the savings would total around $800,000. A freeze on all “step” salary changes would save around $720,000. Combined, the two moves would reduce the budget gap by approximately $1.52 million.

The School Committee’s letter to Chandler Creedon, president of the Franklin Education Association (FEA), acknowledged the stellar work of our teaching staff, as reflected in our student’s college acceptances and academic performance. It also noted that, for most of this decade, the School Committee has worked hard to avoid reductions in teaching staff by steadily reduced spending on other services and imposing new and higher fees for busing, athletics, and student activities, to name a few. The savings generated from these decisions have been poured directly into the classroom, to recruit and retain top quality teachers, to support a strong curriculum and to maintain appropriate class sizes. “We have cut around the edges to protect our core,” the letter stated. Parents and community groups, like the Franklin Education Foundation, also have worked hard to contribute more to classrooms through personal generosity and the fundraising efforts of the PCCs.

In an interview with the Milford Daily News the following day, Mr. Creedon reportedly stated that it was “not likely” that the teachers union would agree to a wage freeze. You can read the story on his remarks at http://www.milforddailynews.com/news/x515998073/Teachers-union-president-Pay-freeze-unlikely. It is unclear whether Mr. Creedon’s comments reflect the views of the union’s rank-and-file or whether FEA members have even been polled or have met to discuss the possibility of a wage freeze.

You can read the School Committee’s letter to the FEA at http://franklinschoolcommittee.wordpress.com/.

At last week’s School Committee meeting, the school administration presented a worst case scenario plan for accomplishing close to the $3 million in cuts. Administration proposals included:
  • $110,000 in reductions in Central Office staff and services
  • The elimination of 25 classroom and 5 support positions at the elementary school level
  • Elimination of full-day kindergarten in favor a half-day scheme that would trigger a complex series of staffing moves to help prevent severe overcrowding in many elementary grades
  • Elimination of all elementary-level library, the late bus, and instrumental music in Grade 5
  • Elimination of 10 teaching and 5 support positions in the middle schools
  • Creation of either a seven-period or eight-period (with study hall) schedule at Franklin High School, including the elimination of anywhere from 8 to 11 teaching positions and 6 to 9 support positions
  • A $150,000 reduction in the athletic budget along with increased athletic user fees

The administration’s proposal carries serious academic implications, including the loss of accreditation for our kindergarten program; the potential probation status with accreditation at the high school (which is now on warning status in several categories); the potential for a downward turn in test scores; and, class sizes that would exceed School Committee guidelines in the vast majority of elementary and middle school grads.

The administration’s presentation marks the start of an intense discussion about how to best navigate the difficult financial circumstances facing the Franklin schools in this economy. Given that 45 professional teaching positions were eliminated at the start of this school year (and 14 were cut the year prior), members of the school community are working together to explore and discuss every possible option in an effort to avert another dramatic teaching cutback and even larger class sizes.

As a reminder of the budget cuts your schools have sustained in the past six years, I encourage you to visit this web link: http://www.slideshare.net/shersteve/franklin-ma-school-budget-reductions-updated-presentation?type=powerpoint

It’s important to keep in mind that many of the budget-cutting maneuvers under consideration, including the potential for stimulus money and wage freezes, are only one-time fixes. How the cost of these measures would be recouped next year, when we are planning the fiscal 2011 school budget, remains to be seen.

Citizen ideas and feedback are critically important in the weeks ahead. I hope you will share your thoughts. I also urge everyone to stay close to the budget process this year by paying attention to School Committee, Town Council and Finance Committee meetings. It is also important for parents and guardians to pursue a frank discussion of budget issues with your principals and your school PCCs.

These e-mails are provided as a constituent service. I try to distribute at least one e-mail update each month during the school year, as issues warrant. As always, I welcome your thoughts and suggestions. If you are receiving duplicate e-mails or if you no longer wish to receive these e-mails, please let me know and I will remove you from the distribution list. If you know of someone you would like to add to the list, please send along their e-mail address.

Thank you!


Ed Cafasso, Member

Franklin School Committee
edcafasso@comcast.net

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