WESTFIELD — The School Committee voted 6-1 to approve a budget after adding $1 million from reserve accounts and free cash.

Committee member Michael Tirrell, the sole “no” vote on May 6, said he would not support the budget, because he felt strongly that one of the positions slated to be reduced should be restored.

Tirrell and other School Committee members thanked Mayor Michael McCabe, Superintendent Stefan Czaporowski and Business Administrator Shannon Barry for what he called “pretty heroic work” to find different ways to bridge a massive shortfall.

The $72,427,881 budget for fiscal year 2025 uses School Choice funds — tuition fees paid to Westfield by communities with residents who choose to attend Westfield schools — as well as money that had previously been set aside to pay increased employee salaries if required by yet-unsettled union contracts, and free cash funds released from the city budget by McCabe. Ordinarily, school officials said, revenues from School Choice, which fluctuates from year to year, would be reserved for one-time projects rather than salaries and other ongoing expenses.

The FY24 budget was $69,870,373, but several programs and employees this year are being funded by federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds, or ESSER. That pandemic aid package expires this year, and Czaporowski had warned that those positions might have to be eliminated unless the budget increased. Tirrell objected to one of the remaining cuts, a position known as an educational team leader.

“There are many positions we would all like to save,” he said. “I’m comfortable that we have a plan to handle most of them — [but] the one that I feel strongly about restoring is the 504 ETL — the person that coordinates all the special services for students with disabilities within the classroom,” Tirrell said. He said the team leader helps students who need special accommodations such as hearing aids or visual aids.

“Those positions were a long-time coming — I believe it was a great step in the right direction,” Tirrell said. “Given the volume of students [whose] cases are now going to be put back to counselors and other folks, their workload is significant nowadays, as well.”

At the public hearing on April 29 at Westfield High School, committee member Bo Sullivan also questioned the elimination of the ETL for grades 8-12, after Westfield High School guidance counselor Megan Dougherty said the position, which was added through ESSER funding, has had a positive impact on the schools and urged the School Committee not to cut it.

Czaporowski said prior to COVID-19, special education plans known as “504s” were administered by guidance counselors. He said while not ideal, it is what used to be done.

Sullivan said he echoed Tirrell’s thoughts. However, he said he was against using any more School Choice funds for the budget, which he said was equivalent in many ways to using ESSER funds, since the same amount of revenue might not be there in future years.

One of the cuts in the new budget is the Westfield Virtual School. Sullivan said that most recently, the superintendent and principal of Westfield Middle School got together to work out a virtual option for rising seventh and eighth graders who are in the Virtual School now. The previously proposed budget included a virtual education program at Westfield High School, but would have had no option for the 23 current sixth and seventh graders at the Virtual School.

“We figured out how to have a Virtual School without some of the administrative costs, which were sizable,” Sullivan said.

When asked about the middle school virtual program after the meeting, Czaporowski said Westfield Middle School Principal Jesse McMillan agreed to give one of the middle school teams of teachers one section of virtual classes for math, science, English and social studies. Each teacher on that team will teach four in-person classes and one virtual class.

“It’s going to be a separate period, just for those kids currently in sixth and seventh, who are going into seventh and eighth [grade]. The current plan is just to serve the students currently in Westfield Virtual School. It will be a pilot — we’ll see how it goes,” Czaporowski said. He said those students will be able to take electives through Edgenuity and be eligible for extracurricular activities at Westfield Middle School.

Sullivan said the budget process isn’t over.

“There will be a hearing of the Finance Committee from the City Council strictly about this budget, and they will accept it or reject it,” he said, urging everybody to keep up their advocacy.

School Committee Vice Chair Timothy O’Connor said he’d been in office for 16 years, and “this was the most difficult budget that we’ve ever had that I’ve experienced,” because of the expiration of ESSER funds.