WINCHESTER - Calling it a “reasonable budget,” Supt. Judy Evans proposed a 4.06 percent increase to the school department budget, which she referred to as typical in relation to the past five fiscal year budgets for the schools.

In her first showing of the budget for FY22, Evans didn’t propose any new initiatives; instead, the only increases came from teacher/administration contracts, enrollment, program improvements, and operation support. The two biggest asks for the FY22 budget include a Dean of Students position (wanted for the past couple of fiscal years) and an operations coordinator.

Before she dove into the FY22 budget, Evans reminded everyone that “budget development is ongoing every year” (and doesn’t just take place in December and January). She admitted the FY22 budget would be tough to project, especially as it relates to enrollment and not knowing how many students would return in the fall (Evans said she expects full in-person learning for the 2021-2022 school year).

The superintendent said she factored in costs for special education and English Language Learners, plus one-time, program improvement, district, and school improvement costs. Unfortunately, for the superintendent, only a small amount of override money remains from the budget override passed a couple of years ago (and she said she still has budget initiatives to fulfill).

“Over the past five years, I’ve been proud to support the social-emotional needs of students, and I plan to continue that effort,” Evans said about the need for the Dean of Students position at the high school.

This position, she noted, would focus 100 percent on the students and their families. She estimated the cost at $110,000. Members of the School Committee backed the need for the position, as well.

Zeina Marchant said the town needs to move from punishment to support when it comes to students at the high school level. She called it a “crucial” position the committee should push for to get done.

Michelle Bergstrom said a Dean of Students is something for which the committee advocated for the past three years. She even argued its something the high school saw a need for 10 years ago and isn’t something brought on by the pandemic.

“It sounds esoteric and private school-ish,” Bergstrom admitted, but suggested it would offer support needed at the high school and show a vision of how the district is growing.

Evans added that for teachers it’s hard to be responsible for instructional improvement and managing and supporting students and their families. She said the Dean of Students would 100 percent support students and families and always be available to students.

She stressed it’s not going to be a position that evaluates the teachers.

The other, major ask in the FY22 budget, according to the superintendent, is for an operations coordinator to help at the administration level. Evans said she saw an increasing need for someone to help shoulder some of the daily responsibility administration officials bear.

The committee also supported this position with Marchant suggesting they push for this and the Dean of Students position.

Overall, the superintendent outlined a $58,286,521 budget, a $2,273,145 increase over the current FY21 budget. $1,115,526 comes from contractual obligations, $382,894 is enrollment-related, $66,429 is for program improvements, and $90,000 correlates to the operation coordinator position.

This includes step/lane changes, projected contract settlements and wage adjustments for non-union employees and is net of projected retirements. It also assumes there will be more students in the fall of this year than there were in the fall of 2020.

Although the budget represents a four percent increase, Evans said “it’s important to place the accomplishments (of the past several years) in perspective considering what’s ahead.”

Thankfully, she noted, technology replacement and expansion, much needed in the age of remote learning, happened through the Winchester Foundation for Educational Excellence.

“They really placed the town in a good position to transition to remote learning,” the superintendent remarked.

Even though the budget includes a $2M increase over FY21, the superintendent pointed out there wouldn’t be any additional languages added to the schools’ world language program, no additional expansion in kindergarten (teacher’s aides were added last year) and no fee increase in the athletic department.

She did, however, proposed three new elementary school teachers at a cost of nearly $200,000, admit the out of district tuition cost would see a big increase (more than $500,000) and the transportation cost would see a slight increase ($51,000), and suggest adding one more nurse at a cost of $74,100.

In reference to the entire budget, School Committee member Chris Nixon encouraged his committee “to look at what’s really important” and see “what we’re doing today that we don’t need to do tomorrow.”

He asked his fellow members to look for some potential savings. He also asked the superintendent to include the FY20 numbers in this year’s budget to represent the growth over the past three years. He argued it would show the community what’s essential.

Moving forward, the School Committee will hold public hearings on the budget, vote on the budget, send the budget to the Finance Committee, and eventually send it to Town Meeting for approval in May.

Until then, the superintendent said she would “keep looking ahead to continue improving the district.”

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