Tuesday, January 14, 2014

MERSD Budget Challenges

January is budget month for the MERSD School Committee and balancing the FY15 Budget is going to be a challenging task.  Over the next few weeks, the School Committee and district team will continue to work collaboratively with the towns of Essex and Manchester to refine the numbers and reach a final budget request.  The challenge before us is addressing a multi-year shift in enrollment that has caused non-discretionary spending to increase.  The Manchester Essex resident student population has grown 24% or 281 students in six years. This is greater than the current student population of the Essex Elementary school.  

As we outlined at the Tentative Budget Public Hearing on December 11, 2013, the district is facing three structural issues [Declining School Choice Revenue, Dependency on Reserves, and Long-term Liabilities/OPEB (Other Post-Employment Benefits) Funding] that will require difficult choices to be made.  Enrollment growth and the diversification of the student body are key drivers in our budget development.  For the past three years, the district has been successful at balancing its goal of addressing the impact of increased resident enrollment with the need to maintain a low assessment for the towns.   In contrast to the three year average of 4.8% annual assessment for fiscal years 2008-2011, each year since we have worked to make targeted increases to staff to maintain class size ratios.  At the same time, we have introduced programs to address the changing needs of our students while maintaining an average annual assessment to towns of 2.0%. This was accomplished through increased Chapter 70 funds from the state, use of reserve monies and internal reductions, and reorganizations to achieve efficiencies. 

What We Have Been Doing
  • All available resources have been used to:
    • Maintain class size benchmarks
    • Deliver on District Improvement Plan Goals
    • Maintain a robust specialist and elective program for students
    • Support an extensive athletics and extra-curricular program
  • Established a joint school-towns budget collaboration team
  • Sought an unsuccessful operational override 
  • Generated funds through efficiencies, tradeoffs, and reorganizations to maintain or improve the current level of services provided
  • Sought and won grant funding to offset/support investment in strengthening district specialized programming to keep tax dollars in district and manage budget growth
  • Utilized district reserve funds to keep town assessments low while continuing to deliver quality of services expected from parents and students

Although we continue to seek internal efficiencies in order to maintain class size and program offerings, we have reached a point where the overarching budgetary issues must be addressed.  We encourage you to visit the MERSD Budget page (www.mersd.org – Quick Link: Budget) to review our presentations and to learn more about the goals and the challenges we are facing.  We also hope that you will consider increasing your involvement with the schools.  We welcome your participation and input as we work to make MERSD a world-class district. 
A great way to join the conversation and learn about what's going on is to attend a School Committee meeting.   Here’s a look at the topics being addressed in the next month.

January 21st
Full Business Meeting
  • Athletics/Student Activities Review & Fees Discussion
  • Budget Workshop – Closing the Gap
January 28th
Full Business Meeting
  • HS Program Focus – Principal’s Update
  • Budget Workshop  - Closing the Gap
    • Continued Discussion of Fees
February 4th    
Essex Elementary
FY15 Budget Hearing @ Essex Elementary School
  • Elementary Facilities Task Force – Presentation of Findings
  • Budget Presentation to Community Hearing
  • Joint Budget Meeting with Essex & Manchester BOS