LONGMEADOW — After previously delaying the vote, the Longmeadow School Committee approved the modified fiscal year 2025 budget presented by Superintendent M. Martin O’Shea during its Feb. 27 meeting.

The committee decided not to remove the library services and nurse services positions. In addition, it reduced substitute salaries from $6,975 to $5,152 and will no longer support the addition of a special education supervisor in the revised budget. However, the approved budget will still feature the reduction of multiple positions including student support teachers, the elementary and middle school music teacher and a special education teacher.

Longmeadow’s budget process this year reached its first obstacle on Jan. 24 when the town was notified that Chapter 70 aid from the state would be significantly lower than previous years, O’Shea said. An initial budget was proposed on Jan. 30 before new information led to a revised budget on Feb. 6. The vote was then delayed from its original date on Feb. 13 to allow for more time to finalize decisions. As a result, this pushed the vote to the School Committee’s Feb. 27 meeting.

With this schedule, the School Committee presented the FY25 budget to the Select Board on March 4, after The Reminder’s press time. The budget’s final vote will occur at the May 14 Longmeadow Town Meeting. However, this vote will only settle the budget’s fiscal total. Funds within the budget can still be rearranged as needed following the vote, O’Shea stated. Furthermore, the finalized total for state funds will not be available until June or July, he said.

If additional funding becomes available, the budget can be amended up to or during the May 14 Town Meeting, Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Operations Thomas Mazza explained. Added funds could also be accepted at the fall Town Meeting if needed, he said.

Another consideration for the approved budget, which came to a total of more than $43 million, was the 38% decreased in Title 1 funds, O’Shea said. This reduction was a result of the FY22 federal census and is likely connected to coronavirus pandemic-related support that boosted Longmeadow families’ financial status during that census, he stated.

The decrease creates a potential issue if the Title 1 funds increase in future years, as anything that was funded by the town during FY25 cannot be later funded by Title 1, even if it was funded by the state in years previous to FY25, Mazza said. This is because Title 1 is designed to fund programs that the town otherwise would not be able to fund. However, by funding the programs in FY25, this demonstrates that the town can afford to fund the programs in the future.

During the committee’s budget discussion, School Committee member Julie Morgan questioned whether “the efficiencies that we’re finding in the budget are at the expense of the kids who have the highest needs,” citing the Title 1 impacts combined with the reduced special education support.

In response, O’Shea stated that the “best preventive, proactive strategies” were meeting students’ needs in Tier 1, which is directly in classrooms. He emphasized that positions like nurses and librarians “are often the glue in a school” that helps students with adjustment support. This factor influenced the administrations decision to restore those positions in the budget, he said.

“My hope is that, in the months ahead, that we’re in a position to address some of these unmet needs and it’s obviously up to us with the administrative team working with the committee to identify what are the highest priority unmet needs because there are … several many unmet needs here,” O’Shea said, highlighting that the situation was “difficult” because “we want to do more and better for kids.”

When asked if the School Committee could request a larger budget to accommodate the cut positions, O’Shea stated that he could “certainly speak to [the importance of] everything on this list [of reductions]. These are all important for so many different reasons.” However, he explained that the town was also “in a challenging fiscal position right now” and that the administration’s goal was to maintain the School Department’s current positions.

Member Jamie Hensch agreed with O’Shea, stating that “it’s a give or take thing. Somebody else has to lose … if we take more [than the recommended budget].”

At the end of the discussion, School Committee Chair Nicole Choiniere thanked O’Shea and Mazza for their work to try to locate all available funds for the FY25 budget. The revised budget passed unanimously.

2024 Pioneer Valley Excellence in Teaching Award

At the meeting, O’Shea also congratulated the four Longmeadow teachers who received the Pioneer Valley Excellence in Teaching Award for 2024. The award recipients were special education teacher Amanda Wyckoff, third grade teacher Mary O’Brien, music department head and teacher Kayla Werlin, and English teacher Jonathan Weil.

“Great representatives of great teaching staff,” he said, “congrats to them.”

The Pioneer Valley Excellence in Teaching Award is an annual program run by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation that celebrates more than 100 educators from Western Massachusetts each year. The program began in 2003, the foundation stated.

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