HOLYOKE — Holyoke Public Schools are prepared to present a balanced budget in May that should come without any major layoffs or cuts to programming.

This news was shared by Superintendent Anthony Soto during a budget update to the School Committee during its April 8 meeting. During the meeting, Soto told the School Committee they can expect a budget for review in early May.

Soto added that while there is still a $700,000 gap to fill between projected revenues and expenses, the district can still balance the budget with careful planning and strategic cost-saving measures that should not lead to major layoffs to cuts or programming.

“We were projecting early on a $6 million deficit and throughout, under [Executive Director of Finance Sean Mangano’s] leadership we’ve been able to work with our department heads, we’ve been able to do our staff allocation and realign making sure schools had the realistic resources they need,” Soto said.

Next year’s budget will include both School Choice and Turnaround grant funding from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

“These funds will allow us to bridge another year until we receive increases in Student Opportunity Act funding next year,” Soto said.

The district has not needed to use School Choice in recent years due to the district already receiving additional federal funding through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund.

ESSER started being offered by the federal government in response to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic but ends in 2024. This has created unique situations in districts called “funding-cliff” as budgets are sorted out of the coming school year without the additional federal funds.

“This is the year that the funding gap will be hitting hard, but we have had some strategies in place that will allow us to support our priorities without major layoffs or cuts to programming,” Soto said. “We had to think about based on where we’re at in this market and realistically what should our staffing levels for those supports be and we were able to reduce that deficit down to about $785,000. The major cost drivers and why we had that $6 million deficit initially is because we are losing ESSER money.”

Mangano said there are still a few budget hurdles to get through in addition to the $700,000 gap that school officials are working to close.

“We anticipate budget challenges related to transportation and the impact of the increased local contribution on the city of Holyoke,” Mangano said.

School Committee Vice Chair Erin Brunelle expressed gratitude to Soto and the district team for preparing this budget background and credited the district for planning well in the previous years leading up to the end of ESSER funding. She added while many districts will see layoffs of staff due to the situation, it was an opportunity of Holyoke to bolster its staff.

“It’s a collaborative process. Thank you for giving me kudos, but it’s not really me, all I did was create a process where we’re meeting with the people that really should be making the decisions and allowing them the autonomy to do that,” Soto said.

The full discussion and update from Soto from the April 8 meeting can be viewed on the Holyoke Public Schools YouTube channel.

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