News Feature

Originally published in The Weekly Packet, November 21, 2012
Budget process for school begins in Sedgwick

by Rich Hewitt

Principal Don Buckingham kicked off the annual school budget preparation process with a small group of residents recently.

Just three residents showed up November 8 for Buckingham’s annual informal report on the process. Although Buckingham begins soliciting ideas from staff, town committees and the community early in the fall, and discusses general budget recommendations with the superintendent, this was the first public opportunity to discuss the budget process for the 2013-14 school year.

Buckingham did not discuss the full budget proposals for the coming school year, but did touch on some factors that will have an impact on overall budget figures.

The school is still recovering from the $200,000-plus budget shortfall discovered last year during the budgeting process, and Buckingham said that will have an impact on the budget for the next school year. The school board this summer opted to use about $60,000 from a tuition reserve account to help reduce the deficit and Buckingham said he had made recommendations for areas where additional cuts could be made.

“That still left us about $15,000 in the hole,” he said. “There are some other areas where we will look at cutting back, but we’re going to owe that money no matter what.”

It appears that there will be some areas where the school will be able to save money in the special education areas by making changes to individual student programs. Buckingham said the school will no longer need the services of a full-time nurse and also is considering moving one student from out-of-district placement back to the local school. Although that move incurs some costs, he said, there should be an overall savings.

“That’s money that does not go into the budget next year,” he said.

Buckingham cautioned, however, that special education costs can change unexpectedly and can pile up quickly when those changes occur.

He said the level of staffing should remain about the same. There will be no cuts to the teaching staff, although there may be some reduction in the number of ed. techs at the school. As it has done for the past several years, the budget will include funding for a guidance counselor. In response to questions about the need for a guidance counselor, Buckingham said that times have changed in the past 50 years and that a number of students come to school with emotional and psychological issues that can affect their ability to learn. The guidance counselor, he said, is there to help them deal with those issues.

For the past several years, he said, the school has not been able to hire a guidance counselor and has had to piece together those services for those children.

The budget also will address ongoing maintenance and repairs at the school building, which now is more than 20 years old. Buckingham noted that the school board this summer opted not to use funds from a maintenance reserve account to reduce the budget shortfall. Board members agreed that they needed to keep those funds available for a number of building projects.

Although he has discussed issues with the superintendent, Buckingham said he will formally submit general budget recommendations to the school board at its next meeting on November 27. The first draft of the 2013-14 school budget will go to the board next month at its regular meeting on December 18. The board will revise the budget—which also will include the high school costs and operating budget for the central office—during a series of workshops in December and January, including a session with town officials that will be held early in January. Buckingham said the public is encouraged to attend those sessions.

The board expects to adopt a budget by the end of January and present that budget to town officials as soon as possible after that.