Framingham schools eye $9.2M budget increase

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Framingham schools eye $9.2M budget increase Tuesday, February 5, 2008
David Riley Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM - Everything from fuel prices to new special education costs could push next year's school budget up about $9.2 million, an 11 percent jump, the School Committee learned last night.

Superintendent Eugene Thayer said his first draft budget for fiscal 2009 includes no new positions, but does account for unforeseen jobs that had to be added to the current budget, mainly to provide mandatory services for special needs students. It also would add hours for some existing school employees.

The spending plan also increases funding in accounts where the schools are spending in the red already this year and would rely less on grants, which are not a sure revenue source, to cover basic costs like salaries.

"I think it's very important for people to understand we're trying to get this budget back on track," Thayer said. "That means really not taking chances on things."

The draft budget would jump from $82.9 million this year to $92.1 million. Thayer said he expected an increase between 10 percent to 14 percent.

Salaries would increase roughly $4.9 million, partly to cover contractual salary raises and several positions that had to be added this year.

However, part of that increase includes existing jobs not listed in the main school budget in the past because they were covered by outside grants. While those grants hopefully will continue to come in, Thayer said, the district should start properly accounting for those positions.

Another roughly $920,000 would go to special education - where the district is over budget in some areas this year - and an additional $633,000 to cover increases in buildings and grounds costs, including $269,000 for gas bills alone.

About $341,000 extra would cover cost overruns for substitute teachers and raise their pay for the first time in about 10 years, Thayer said.

Thayer also made slight reductions in the revenue expected from fees charged for busing or programs like athletics.

"We have to at this point make those particular numbers up," he said.

Despite some questions on the spending plan, the school board praised Thayer on his presentation. Chairman Philip Dinsky credited Thayer for showing how much the schools are spending this year compared to what was budgeted.

"This is the first time in a while we've seen an overview like this," Dinsky said. "I think this is an excellent way to have command over the different line items in the budget."

School officials are still trying to tell if they will end this year with a deficit. Thayer said last month he was "cautiously optimistic" the schools would end up in the black. The schools faced a $2.6 million shortfall in fiscal 2007, closed through cuts and financial help from the town.

According to a budget schedule distributed last night, school officials plan a joint meeting with the Finance Committee tomorrow, along with more detailed presentations throughout March.

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