by Hilary Brumberg and Perrin Stein
When the State budget was approved in July, the Newton Public Schools received $777,000 in state aid and circuit breaker reimbursements. This funding allowed this school to hire back the equivalent of 1.4 full time educators (FTEs), which were used to lower class sizes and add sections of preexisting classes, according to superintendent David Fleishman.
Principal Jennifer Price said the funding was used to add one section of the following classes: creative writing, speech, chemistry, ninth grade history, robotics and engineering, 10th grade history, 10th grade English and jazz band.
The NPS usually receives additional state aid once the State approves its budget, according to Fleishman. The funding cities and towns receive is based on the State’s revenue projections for the fiscal year, he said.
Along with the $200,000 in state aid, the NPS received $577,000 in circuit breaker reimbursements, which are given to cities and towns to offset the cost of out-of-district tuition from the previous fiscal year. This money was in addition to the reimbursements estimated in the FY12 budget.
The NPS’s FY12 budget approved by the School Committee in May accounted for 40 percent reimbursement from FY11 because it had “been that low for the past several years,” Fleishman said. After reviewing all reimbursement claims from FY11, the State decided to increase the reimbursement percentage to roughly 65 percent. Consequently, the NPS received an additional $577,000 in circuit breaker reimbursements, which was added to the budget in July.
Fleishman said it is “not typical” for the NPS to receive additional aid when the State budget passes because the circuit breaker reimbursement percentage rarely increases.
Once the NPS knew it would have additional money to add to the FY12 budget, Fleishman, the deputy and assistant superintendents and all of the City’s principals reviewed the school system’s needs, Fleishman said.
On July 19, he proposed to the School Committee to add the additional funding to the FY12 budget and recommended howthe NPS should spend it.
The proposal focused on minimizing the effects of the cuts in the original FY12 budget through adding special education support, putting aside reserve funding and adding sections of classes, according to Fleishman. It included adding back three of the 9.8 FTEs that were cut from the high schools in May.
After the School Committee approved the recommendation, Fleishman told the principals to divide the FTEs among themselves.
Former math department head and current deputy superintendent Cindy Bergan, Price, South vice principal Mary Scott and South principal Joel Stembridge discussed how to divide up the FTEs. They decided that this school would receive 1.4 FTEs and South would receive 1.6 FTEs because South “took larger cuts in the spring,” according to Price.
She then contacted all of this school’s department heads, and they discussed the staffing needs of each department based on student registration and class size.
While she and the department heads worked collaboratively to allocate teachers, Price said she ultimately made the decisions.
Although the department heads made it clear which areas needed the most funding, she said she still had some difficult choices to make. In the end, she favored adding FTEs to areas where the most students would benefit, she said.
Another item Price said she considered while delegating the FTEs is the English contractual cap, which limits the number of students each English educator can have to an 83 student average over three years.
The cap would “definitely have been in jeopardy” if the English department had not received the additional 0.45 FTEs, according to Price. Because students are still enrolling in this school, the cap is still at risk of being violated, she said.
If the contractual cap is violated, any English teacher with more than 83 students average over the last three years would have the option of filing a grievance with the Newton Teachers Association, according to NTA president Michael Zilles.
While Price said she feels she and the department heads allocated the FTEs to the best of their abilities, she acknowledged that “it is not perfect.”
“I’m sure there are still a lot of students who are frustrated,” she said. “We’re frustrated, too, because we’d like to offer the breadth and depth of classes with the class sizes we’d like, but the budget does not allow for that.”
The NPS could gain up to an additional $350,000 this month when the State does final calculations on its FY11 spending and sends any leftover funds to school systems to help alleviate cuts made last spring, according to Fleishman. If the NPS receives any of this money, it will be put aside as reserve funding in the case of any unanticipated expenses in FY12, he said.