AGAWAM — The public hearing on the proposed $52 million school budget for fiscal year 2025 and the vote by the School Committee to adopt it lasted less than 10 minutes. No residents came to the April 23 hearing — which took place half an hour before the regular committee meeting — to speak for or against the budget.

The vote to adopt the proposed budget was 6-0. Mayor Christopher Johnson, the committee chair, abstained when the roll call vote was called.

The adopted budget increases the current FY24 budget of $49,960,427 by $1,964,015. The FY25 budget totals $51,924,442, an increase of 3.78%. The next stop for the school budget is the City Council, which will consider it as part of the overall town FY25 budget.

Prior to the vote, School Superintendent Sheila Hoffman gave a brief summary of the budget. Unlike some surrounding districts, she said Agawam’s school budget doesn’t eliminate any programs. In fact, an additional special education program is planned for the elementary level. She said the budget cultivates an environment where all students grow, learn and belong.

Increased student achievement to close current learning gaps that exist for certain groups of students and increasing engagement for all stakeholders to strengthen the school community are at the core of the budget. This includes increasing attendance rates and personalized learning experiences and transforming teaching and learning to create equitable access to high quality instructional resources.

“This will provide unique learning opportunities for all students and bridge partnerships with families and community stakeholders,” said Hoffman. In addition, the superintendent said the budget has four strategic priorities:

  • Culture and sense of belonging.
  • Social, civic, social and well-being development.
  • Communication, collaboration and diversity of perspectives.
  • Increased pathways of learning, voice and choice.

Agawam, like school districts across the country, has used federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds during the past several years. Those ESSER funds allowed Agawam to address the needs of the COVID-19 era and hire additional positions to increase family engagement, address mental health concerns and provide educators with instructional coaches to meet academic needs.

ESSER funds also supported the updating of technology for both safety and instructional purposes. While this funding ends Sept. 30, the FY25 budget includes the remaining portion of the funds.

Salaries are one of the biggest cost drivers for the school budget, totaling more than $1.3 million. That includes fixed costs for contractual salary increases, degree changes and stipends as well as cost-of-living adjustments, longevity payments and Juneteenth pay.

Nearly 75% of teachers and paraprofessionals represented by the Agawam Education Association are at the top step of the salary scale. In 2023 a new three-year contract with salary increases was approved by the union and the School Committee.

During the FY25 budget period, teachers and assistant principals will receive a 2% negotiated salary increase while paraprofessionals and secretaries will receive raises of 2.5%.

But there also will be a reduction of four full-time employees.  

Other budget increases include $175,619 for transportation and transportation for homeless students from Lower Pioneer Valley Educational Collaborative; an increase in vocational educational education tuitions (LPVEC Career Educational Technical Center) of $387,461; and an increase in the district’s information technology of $98,921. The increases total $2,009,271.

To create what Hoffman said is a “fiscally responsible” budget, those increases were offset by reductions in other areas. They included a decrease to non-building-based budgets as well as a reduction in the special services tuition. The tuition reduction will be offset through grants and other funding. The reductions total $1,964,915, saving taxpayers $45,255.

Residents can tune to cable Channel 15 to view the budget, or see it at agawamed.org. It is also be available for the public to view at the Agawam Public Library, the clerk’s office at Town Hall and the superintendent’s office at Agawam Junior High School.

mlydick@thereminder.com | + posts