Good Budget News From Governor Tempered by Surge in Belmont School Enrollment
Despite 10 percent increase in education local aid, amount will be used to lessen enrollment gains.
While many communities in the surrounding area will see very little growth from the proposed fiscal year 2015 budget by Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, Belmont is the exception to that rule, according to analysis from State Sen. Will Brownsberger.
While Patrick's proposed budget, released on Jan. 22, invests only lightly in new local aid – unrestricted general government aid is level funded and Chapter 70 school aid increases only 2.3 percent – Belmont will see school aid increase by approximately 10 percent with total Cherry Sheet local aid (school aid and general government) moving up by 7 percent.
In real money, Belmont's schools would receive $6.4 million in the governor's fiscal '15 budget compared to $5.8 million the town collected from the legislature's fiscal '14 final budget, a $555,196 increase.
Last year, the town's Chapter 70 increase was $140,665 from the fiscal '13 final budget.
The surprising increase in education local aid is due in large part to Patrick's effort to address city's and towns that have not received their fair share under the state's complex education aid formula, according to Brownsberger.
And Belmont's local aid amount could jump up another level when the legislature creates its budget.
"It is unlikely that the legislature will go below the Governor’s budget on the local aid amounts as the process moves forward given that these numbers are fairly low and the economy is fairly healthy, it is reasonable to treat them as a floor for local budget planning purposes," said Brownsberger on his legislative website.
Brownsberger said that Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo assured municipal officials last week that the House local aid budget would be higher, "although it remains to be seen how the numbers will work for individual communities."
For Belmont officials who are leading the creation of the town's fiscal '15 budget, the news from Beacon Hill is "welcomed news," David Kale, Belmont's Town Administrator, told Belmont Patch this week.
Currently, Belmont's "initial" budget released late in December assumed that nearly all revenue coming into town coffers would be the same as the year before. At the time Kale said a more realistic budget for the next fiscal year will emerge when actual revenue amounts come from state and town offices.
Kale said Patrick's local aid data "now allows us to factor this information into the development of town and school budgets."
But while the Belmont School District is "[c]ertainly we’re happy to see an increase" from Patrick, "Chapter 70 alone does not sustain the costs of growth" within the district, said Dr. Thomas Kingston, Belmont's school superintendent.
"The increase in Chapter 70 funding for Belmont largely stems from last year’s increase in enrollment," said Kingston, referring to the sudden jump in the number of pupils in the town's six public schools.
In late fall, there were approximately 140 students more student as a total net gain through the 13 grades – kindergarten to 12th grade – as compared to the same time last year, with Belmont schools hosting more than 4,140 students.
One of the main concern expressed by parents and educators is overcrowding in several classes in the elementary and middle schools. Kingston has stated that these will need to be addressed in the coming budget.
"We are building our budget proposal now, and the School Committee is working closely with Kale and the Board of Selectmen," said Kingston, noting that the school's initial proposed budget will be presented to the Warrant Committee on Feb. 12.