Town Administrator Charlie Seelig and Chair of the Finance Committee Melinda Tarsi attended the Halifax School Committee meeting on Monday, June 8. Halifax Elementary School Principal Kayne Beaudry and Assistant Principal Brian DeSantes prepared a budget proposal for the fy21 school year which included a number of tier one and tier two cuts necessitated by the economic uncertainties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Superintendent Jill Proulx shared the budget presentation during Monday’s remote meeting. Proulx said that the Halifax Finance committee had approved funding the school at the FY20 level for the regular day. The FY20 budget amounts to a reduction of $211,863 from the FY21 budget that had been voted by the school committee prior to the pandemic. The town of Halifax requested the reduction due to concerns over a lack of state aid and local revenues as well as delays in real estate tax collection.
Proulx said at the center of the core values used to arrive at the cuts is the need to continue to support the students both academically and developmentally. Tier one cuts include changing the nurse leader position from a part time one to a stipend position. Also included in tier one, were cuts to a number of different supplies including library, technology, curriculum, custodial, and special education. Proulx said that some of those cuts could potentially be offset by supplies that were not used during the spring term. Additionally, it may be possible to request funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act for technology supplies.
Tier two cuts involve staff and include eliminating the part time math interventionist position at $22,000. The position is a new one in the budget as it was previously funded through Title 1 funds that are no longer available. Also on the table as part of tier two cuts is the loss of two paraprofessional positions. Such a loss might mean not having designated paraprofessionals in the kindergarten classrooms. Other cuts include a reduction in the behaviorist from a 1.0 full time position to a 0.8 position. This cut would likely mean the behaviorist working four rather than five days of the week. Another possible cut is the loss of a bus though the feasibility of such a cut may change based on the guidance that is still to be released from the state regarding social distancing for school buses.
School Committee Chair Summer Schmaling asked if the town provided any guidance as to when the school should be voting their budget. Seelig said that the Halifax town meeting is likely to be postponed until July 11. Seelig said that the recess of the town meeting is due to the uncertainty regarding the state’s finances as well as safety concerns over holding a large gathering.
Proulx explained to the committee that faculty must be notified by June 15 of a reduction in force or non-renewal. Initially the committee was considering voting to authorize Proulx to give notification of cuts should they become necessary, though it was agreed the legality of such an approach would need to be verified. Halifax selectman and school committee member Gordon Andrews addressed the committee, however, saying that the town has only estimated an 8 percent reduction in state aid while the reality may be closer to 15 percent. He pointed out that he believed that the cuts shared by Proulx would likely only be the first of several rounds. “I think we are looking at tier 3 that we haven’t even talked about yet,” Andrews explained. Director of Business Services Christine Healy concurred with Andrews saying that while she tries to remain “optimistic and hopeful” the state is no longer saying that they intend to maintain Chapter 70 funding. Tarsi also echoed Andrews’ statement saying, “I don’t think fy20 budget is the worst-case scenario.”
Considering the information shared by Andrews, Healy, and Tarsi, the committee voted unanimously to vote the fy20 school budget for fy21. The vote was to approve the 2020-2021 regular day budget of $5,659,147 and the out of district vocational budget of $156,500.
Schmaling asked if the reason some local towns are not in the same precarious position is because they are not as reliant on state aid as Halifax. Healy explained that towns such as Duxbury and Hingham are having to make less cuts since less of their budgets come from state aid. Seelig said that while Halifax relies more heavily on state aid than some communities (15 percent of the town budget), there are cities and larger communities that rely far, far greater on state aid. Andrews added that Halifax is a much higher recipient of aid than either Kingston or Plympton with 38 percent of the Halifax school budget coming from the state.
Beaudry gave an update on the sixth-grade graduation plan. He said that many different stakeholders had worked to prepare for what is being dubbed the “sixth-grade farewell wave.” The event will take place on June 18 at 6 p.m. Students and families will remain in their cars and staff will practice social distancing. Students will be receiving what Beaudry referred to as a “Silver Lake survival kit” or “swag bag.” Beaudry also said that locker cleanout would occur throughout the last week of school with each homeroom being assigned a pickup time during a 45-minute block at one of two locations at the school.
Proulx told the committee districts are still awaiting guidance from the state regarding reentry in the fall. Proulx anticipates the guidance being more prescriptive but noted, “he’s always very careful to note that it could all change because of the realities of the virus itself.” Proulx said that closer to the start of school, the district will send surveys to students and parents to gauge where everyone stands regarding transportation, home-schooling, safety protocols, and other pertinent areas.