HOLYOKE — Discussion during the School Committee’s June 10 meeting on the recently proposed fiscal year 2025 school budget, committee members shared positive sentiments on the financial health of the district and the work that went into forming this balanced budget proposal.

Presented by Superintendent Anthony Soto and Executive Director of Finance Sean Mangano in the Holyoke School Committee’s final May meeting, the FY25 proposal would adopt a $128.9 million total budget and calls for a spending increase of $5,615,992 or 5% more than the previous years budget. The spending plan essentially maintains current staffing, programing and class sizes with no major layoffs or programmatic reductions required.

“The budget planning process was led by our mission, vision, core beliefs and equity commitments,” said Soto during the presentation.

He explained when determining priorities, each spending decision was measured against one important yard stick: is this investment good for our students?

“This budget places students first,” Soto said. “It is designed to achieve our mission to ensure that all students develop the skills and access the opportunities to graduate high school ready for life, career and college.”

Holyoke Public Schools has significantly invested over the past few years to ensure programming and systems are in place that support student success. The investments were first made possible with federal funding through Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief, commonly known as ESSER, and are now being sustained through the commonwealth’s Student Opportunity Act or SOA. HPS has invested in academic coaching, new curriculum, academic intervention, use of data and data systems, enrichment opportunities, out of school time programming, instructional leadership and more.

“I am confident that the district will continue to see the fruits of these investments reflected in student achievement, social-emotional well-being and student experience for years to come,” Soto said.

Soto said the budget proposal narrows district focus to three key areas for the next school year. The first is the ability to deliver high quality lessons to ensure all students develop grade-level skills and are supported to reach grade-level expectations.

Another area of focus will be on using instructional feedback and student data to identify what students know and what they need, and then adjusting accordingly. The last area of focus is on executing schoolwide systems and classroom strategies to promote student connection and positive learning behaviors.

“Former President Barack Obama said, ‘A budget is more than just a series of numbers on a page; it is an embodiment of our values.’ I hope that, in this budget and in our work, you see our core beliefs lived out,” Soto said.

After the Public Hearing was opened and closed with no speakers at the committee’s June 10 meeting, members shared their overall positive thoughts on this year’s budget.

Ward 5 representative John Whelihan said the district has worked to create a detailed budget through collaboration and multiple meetings.

“Some of the local towns around us are having severe budget issues, layoffs, etc. etc., so we’re not in that predicament and I thank our chief financial officer and Mr. Soto for putting it together,” Whelihan said. “I think the budget is well defined as equity for our students.”

Ward 7 representative Ellie Wilson echoed Whelihan’s sentiments on the leadership group of Soto, Mangano and Mayor Joshua Garcia, who is the School Committee chair.

“The entire team has done an extraordinary job managing the finances over the past several years in order to set us up appropriately after the funding from COVID is ended and to be in the position we’re in is based upon the excellent management that has been provided financially over the past several years,” Wilson said.

Garcia said it was important for the public and everyone involved in the district “to understand how lucky” Holyoke was to be in the position it is in light of challenges in districts across the state.

“There are districts everywhere cutting positions left and right, trying to balance their budgets,” Garcia said. “Considering our community and the challenges we navigate over the years and whatnot, we are incredibly lucky to be in a position where we don’t have to make those cuts. We can maintain a critical services.”

Soto called budgeting for the district a “very decentralized process” before giving credit to the district principals, the finance team and department heads for working together to best support the district and student’s needs.

“They really helped inform me on what’s most important to them as we navigate allocating resources of over $128 million, so thank you to everybody involved and we appreciate all the work that went into it,” Soto said.