A lack of additional money in the education budget for the next school year will prevent Andover from hiring new teachers, staff, and may force a delay in changing school start times.
That's according to Superintendent Sheldon Berman, who said there was less of an increase in state aid than in previous years and limited funds added to the budget by the town manager.
"I think everyone who deals with the budget is disappointed. We had bold goals that were compromised by a lack of resources," Berman said.
Part of the superintendent's job is to present different budgetary options to the School Committee. The committee votes on the budget, which is then sent to the Finance Committee and the town's Select Board.
Last year the school received a 10.1 percent increase in state aid over the prior year; and this year, the Andover Public School system received a little less than 1.5 percent, dwindling the million or so dollars in aid from last year to $172,000.
This came as a shock to those at last week's School Committee meeting, including Committee Chair Joel Blumstein, who said, “We were surprised at how low the increase is for Andover. Everything we are doing now is leading up to Town Meeting in April.”
Berman added that the budgetary allotment from the town was also low.
“[Town Manager] Andrew Flanagan only allocated a 3.86 percent increase in our budget. That barely goes to paying salaries,” he said.
However, when asked, Flanagan said, “Based on the availability of revenues, 3.86 percent was the most we could recommend for the school departments and I think it's both fair and reflects the town's resources. It's been about 4 percent in prior years.”
The superintendent said that the drastic budgetary cut at the state level was due to a recent restructuring of the budget formula which allocated 85 percent of the new state aid to 35 low-income and urban communities across the state. And while he understood the need to provide more money to those schools, Berman said Andover has been challenged financially.
“It severely limits what we are going to be able to do,” he said. “We will have a level service budget with very few additions or changes.”
Berman said the high school wanted to add a special education teacher and psychologist to address the growing need for mental health services at the school, but that won't be happening with this budget.
"We are finding that there is more outplacement for mental health," he said. "We wanted to address that in district."
Instead, only one teacher will be hired to work for the Bridge Autism Program at West Elementary School.
The schools also risk not changing starting times next year due to added bus costs. He said that changing the times requires adding buses, each of which cost about $60,000. That, and a few improvements to the schools' buildings won't be funded as well.
The School Committee is going to negotiate with Flanagan and talk to the local Legislature to try to increase funding for the schools before the budget is finalized this July. But in lieu of further funding, Berman said, “We will do the best we can with the resources we have.”