SPRINGFIELD — With the release of the proposal for the fiscal year 2025 operating budget, members of the Springfield School Committee met for a public hearing ahead of the regular April 24 meeting.

The purpose of the hearing, to allow members of the community to offer comments on the budget proposal, was met with no public input.

The proposed allocations of $625 million represent a 5.8% increase over current spending in the FY24 budget.

Chief Financial and Operations Officer Patrick Roach said federal funding and other allotments increase the total significantly.

“Overall, an all funds budget of $755,682,735, however that represents a 5.4% decrease from last year,” he said. “So, the reason there’s actually a decrease is because we received $243 million in ESSER [Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief] funds during COVID, of which we’ve spread out and used strategically.”

Roach also said the School Department has used the ESSER funds largely on one-time investments as opposed to staff funding as many other districts in the area had, thereby setting Springfield up in a favorable position as those allotments come to an end.

Mayor Domenic Sarno agreed with Roach’s assessment of the funding utilization.

“You see other districts, surrounding districts now that utilize that money instead of for one-time, one-time programs, onetime capital improvements, one-time investments, for staff,” he said, noting that in those districts, teachers, paraprofessionals and other staff are facing layoffs and programs are being shuttered.

Among the changes and increases in the FY25 proposal are a $46.5 million allocation towards mental health as well as an increase in the number of preschool teachers with another 10 being added to the rosters across Springfield Public Schools.

Roach said $48.3 million will go directly to schools in the department, allowing those institutions to build their own spending plans.

“There’s some really exciting things that you’re going to see with the ESSER funds coming out this fall that we’ve been working on for a few years, “He said. “With the construction of these things you have to hire architects, do bidding and all the planning so they take multiple years to do and this summer and this fall are going to be really, really exciting times.”

Responding to committee member LaTonia Monroe Naylor’s question about continued funding for art and music programming, Roach said both would be in each school and that ESSER money would again be applied towards the Adaptive Music Program within the district.

Acknowledging the forthcoming state budget cuts, committee member Denise Hurst inquired about funding sources outside of Chapter 70 allotments, the Massachusetts law establishing funding requirements for public school districts within the commonwealth. The law establishes a minimum funding requirement or “foundation budget,” for each district that seeks to ensure an adequate education consistent with the Education Reform Act of 1993.

Roach said that when state budget cuts are made, it is generally done via trimming to individual line items.

“A lot of them are supplemental,” he said. “So, we don’t have to cut any core programs or cut staff or do anything crazy.”

Sarno added that FY26 is going to be a “very difficult, challenging year” as a result of the cuts to the state budget.

“You could see the benchmarks not being met on the state level,” he said. “The good thing is that in Chapter 70, that’s the holy grail that’s very rarely touched.”

Hurst asked the committee about the exploration of electric school buses for the district’s transportation needs, noting that at a recent National School Board Association meeting, a great deal of discussion focused on electric vehicles.

Sarno said such a transition would require a great deal of federal assistance and considerations would have to be made as to available charging stations and the electric buses performance capabilities in cold weather. The mayor also acknowledged that transportation costs within the district will increase by $5.6 million for FY25.

The public hearing adjourned after 20 minutes with no comment from community members. A vote by the full School Committee is planned for the May 2 meeting.