AGAWAM — Education spending in Agawam for the 2024-25 school year would increase by nearly $2 million if a proposed budget of $52 million is approved by the School Committee and the City Council.

School Superintendent Sheila Hoffman revealed the budget proposal at the April 9 School Committee meeting. During her brief budget presentation, Hoffman said the budget as proposed totals $51,924,442. This is an increase of $1,964,015 — or 3.78% — from the fiscal year 2024 budget of $49,960,427. Initially, the increase was $2,009,270, but was decreased by $45,255 through cost reductions and grants.

Hoffman said the proposed budget, which does not eliminate any programs, is built on key priorities for the district, including increasing student achievement to address existing learning gaps for certain groups of students, increasing attendance rates and personalizing learning experiences so all students feel a sense of belonging.

“That requires us to transform teaching and learning to allow equitable access to high quality instructional resources, provide unique learning opportunities for all students and bridge partnerships with families and community stakeholders,” said the superintendent.

During a joint budget review session with the City Council School Budget Subcommittee and the School Committee Budget/Finance Subcommittee prior to the March 26 School Committee meeting, Hoffman said one of the educational challenges facing the district is chronic absenteeism.

“It’s a challenge here in Agawam, but it’s also a national challenge schools across the country are facing with students having increased absences,” she said.

Chronic absenteeism is defined by the state as missing more than 10% of school days, which is 18 days or more. Hoffman said the district’s chromic absenteeism hit a high of 35.3% during the middle of the coronavirus pandemic in the 2021-22 school year.

It dropped to 26.9% in the 2022-23 school year because of what Hoffman said was “significant work” to reduce that percentage.

“Even though it’s still a problem and a challenge, we’re moving in the right direction and decreasing the percentage of students who are chronically absent,” she said.

According to the superintendent, the district continues to work on closing gaps in performance across grade levels.

“We’re still addressing the mental health crisis in adolescents and teenagers — something that is again not unique to Agawam,” said Hoffman. “We have a rise in multi-language learners, lingual learners and we’re also trying to increase our personalized instruction.”

In her public presentation at the April 9 meeting, Hoffman said the FY25 budget addresses those efforts by supporting a data collection and analysis system that tracks student data across grade levels for use in instruction and social emotional interventions through software, hardware and curriculum resources.

The superintendent explained during her public presentation that the FY25 budget that increases for fixed costs such as contractual salary increases, degree changes, stipends and special education tuitions have been incorporated into the budget.

Other increases in the budget include a 3% hike — $175,6191 — in transportation costs by the Lower Pioneer Valley Educational Collaborative, which runs the school buses, as well as an increase of $387,461 by LPVEC for vocational education tuition for Agawam students.

The cost for information technology to maintain the district’s one-to-one device replenishment system for curriculum needs will also increase by $98,921.

However, the district is using some supplemental funding — totaling $45,255 — to offset those increases. They include a circuit breaker reimbursement, used to pay special education tuitions, the federal IDEA — or Individuals with Disabilities Education Act — grant, which also helps to pay for tuitions, offsets some salaries to the Early Childhood Center revolving salary account, title grants and reductions to some non-building cost centers.

Hoffman also explained that relief funding from the federal government, the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief — or ESSER — funds will end Sept. 30.

“Those relief funds helped us over the last few years in hiring additional positions to increase our family engagement, address mental health concerns and provide educators with instructional coaching to meet current academic needs. It also supported the considerable updating of technology for both safety and instructional purposes. The FY25 proposed budget includes the remainder of these additional positions,” she said.

Hoffman thanked members of the Council’s School Budget Subcommittee, chaired by Councilor Dino Mercandante, for their “interest and thoughtful input” in reviewing the FY25 school budget. They worked with Hoffman and the School Committee Budget/Finance Subcommittee, which consists of Wendy Rua as chair, and A.J. Christopher and Michael Perry.

“I’m also extremely grateful that we have a talented professional staff dedicated to increasing student achievement,” said Hoffman. “We also have a mayor, School Committee and City Council members who fully support the town’s schools by providing necessary funds to provide our students with the services they need to be productive citizens.”

School Committee members will likely adopt the proposed budget at their April 23 meeting, since none of them raised any objections to the proposed budget. When the budget is adopted, it will go to the City Council to be incorporated into the town’s FY25 budget.

Residents can tune to cable Channel 15 to view the proposed budget and can attend a public hearing to make comments. The hearing is scheduled for 6:30-7 p.m. Tuesday, April 23, in the auditorium at Agawam Junior High School, 1305 Springfield St., Feeding Hills. Following the hearing, the committee will vote to adopt the proposed FY25 budget.

Once approved, the school budget will be available for the public to view at the Agawam Public Library, the city clerk’s office at Town Hall and the superintendent’s office at AJHS. It also will be posted at agawamed.org.