EAST LONGMEADOW — Superintendent Gordon Smith presented an overview of the fiscal year 2025 budget to the East Longmeadow School Committee during its April 22 meeting.

For FY25, the School Department’s requested budget increase is 3.98%, which brings the final budget to more than $35.9 million. This budget was submitted to the town manager and will be included in his budget proposal to the Town Council, Smith explained. It allows the department to maintain its current programs as well as hire an additional adjustment counselor at Meadow Brook Elementary School.

“We have two counselors there [at Meadow Brook] but the amount of challenge and demand that they’re facing, we really could use more support,” Smith said. “This would ultimately also support the social and emotional learning program that we have recently brought back at Meadow Brook.”

During his presentation, Smith also highlighted past budgets and the department’s work to “build back” since the coronavirus pandemic challenges of 2021 and 2022. He emphasized the department’s focus on “the whole child” through academic, social and emotional supports at schools and stated that the schools have worked to eliminate student barriers to education.

“Over the last few years as we’ve come out of COVID, I think we’ve done a nice job utilizing the budget to make sure we’re connecting with our students and dealing with challenges that they’re seeing in front of them,” Smith said.

In reviewing the department’s efforts over the last few years, Smith highlighted a new elementary school curriculum, individualized software for students struggling in math and English learning, student and staff well-being surveys and student leadership roles.

Furthermore, while 11 positions had to be reduced across FY21 and FY22, the department restored certain full-time positions in FY23 and FY24 in addition to hiring additional staff for support in needed areas, such as an art specials teacher for the elementary schools, Smith stated.

“East Longmeadow has always been very supportive and, as we came out of the pandemic, the last two years we’ve been able to start to really build back and set a solid foundation,” Smith said.

He explained that the department’s requested budget percent increase was 3.9% for both FY23 and FY24, as compared to the increases that were closer to 1% in FY21 and FY22. These lower percent increases between 1% and 2% often require positions to be eliminated, Smith explained.

At the meeting, Assistant Superintendent for Business Pamela Blair also stated that the FY25 budget includes a higher contractual increase for paraprofessionals than in previous years. She explained that this elevated percent was because the wage was previously “far below where they should be.”

Smith later stated that this increase followed a negotiation in the previous year that brought paraprofessionals to “a living wage” and that, as a result, a higher increase this year had to be implemented.

“It was a significant jump but a needed jump given how valuable our paraprofessionals are to make things really function for our students,” he said, stating that the department had previously lost paraprofessionals due to their lower wage.