Sunday, December 6, 2015

Forewarned on FY17

Today's T&G article captures the concern that has been raised several times since the opening of school report: namely, what a foundation-level budget looks like when enrollment is flat and inflation is negative. 
“The combination makes for a dire projection,” is what Mr. Allen is quoted as saying. Yeah...
A good rule of thumb (note that this is just me speaking based on past experience) is that the WPS budget increases by about 3% each year across the budget; line item by line item is different--some will be lower, health insurance (for example) will always be higher--but without making a single addition, that's how much the budget generally will increase.
The words that we'll be hearing this spring, thus, will be "hold harmless" which means that the state won't cut our chapter 70 aid, even if our enrollment falls and even with negative inflation. Those minimum per pupil increases that are always a hot legislative topic and generally don't impact Worcester also will be of interest this year to us.
Neither of those two things is going to be enough to save us from some pretty nasty looking decisions this spring.
Thus let me point out again what I have pointed out before: while the city of Worcester has met foundation for FY16, there remains $2.4 million from previous years that the city is under net school spending. Making up the ground on that (particularly if the city wisely projects a 3% increase in minimum school spending that won't entirely be required) would be a very, very good idea this coming year.
It is also crucial--not only for Worcester, but for minimum spending communities across the state--that the question of inflation be dealt with. The back years that the state changed the rate (to their advantage) were called out in the foundation budget review commission report; there remains a question if the inflation multiplier being used is the best one to use (in other words, should we really be basing increases off of how much was spent by cities and states the previous year?).

Note, incidentally, that Dr. Rodrigues commented at Thursday's School Committee that the first budget presentation would be at the January 21 meeting, after the release of Governor Baker's budget.
Relatedly: I've had some questions on if I plan to continue to cover the Worcester School Committee with my leaving the committee in January. The answer is somewhat. To my mind, there are two major looming issues that warrent close attention:

  • the superintendent search
  • the budget
Given that I live here and I have three kids in the schools, I'll continue to have an interest. I'm still working out what my schedule come January is going to look like, and I won't be doing a blow-by-blow account of every meeting. I do plan, though, to keep a close eye on both of the above issues, and yes, those I'll certainly be blogging about. 

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