SOUTH HADLEY — With budget season in full swing, the School Committee, Town Administrator Lisa Wong and the Select Board have been presenting their preliminary fiscal year 2025 budget numbers.

Recently, the Select Board approved reducing the town administrator salary by $10,000 for this year, which was requested by Wong.

Wong discussed at the Select Board meeting on April 2 why she thought it was the right move to reduce her salary.

She said, “We negotiated a contract in good faith that has three years. This is me coming to [the Select Board] with a voluntary salary reduction of $10,000. This for me is a huge leap of good faith. This is something that is clearly, deeply, personal to me and something that I am showing to put some skin in the game because I am asking employees a lot in terms of reductions in staff, in changes, in the uncertainty of a wage and compensation study.”

There is currently a wage and classification study underway to help the town attract and retain its workforce while also creating transparency and equity in decision making.

Wong added that she doesn’t know the last time that town conducted one of these studies and that “this has been a thorough process, and the idea is to actually then work with staff and create job descriptions. There are a lot of staff that don’t have job descriptions so that we can clearly understand our biggest asset and what they do.”

Superintendent Mark McLaughlin also shared at a FY25 budget presentation on March 7 that he and Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Business Operations Jennifer Voyik will not be accepting pay increases this fiscal year.

He said that it was important to not accept increase so that the extra funds can be used in other areas.
McLaughlin added, “The reason I share that is because we are trying to demonstrate that every penny counts and also that we are trying to [be] part of the solution. This is not meant to be self-aggrandizing, it’s because the School Committee and the town have some serious thinking to do in the future.

The School Committee and Select Board both expressed their gratitude for these decisions as it has been made clear by Voyik, McLaughlin and Wong that there are a lot of items being reviewed in this budget.

The proposed FY25 budget is projected to be approximately $56.8 million which is a 3.4% increase from FY24.
Most revenues and expenditures are set to increase except for the Human Services Department, Public Works and Health Department.

The Health Department budget is decreasing 12% due to combining two positions into one and shifting other positions to grants. The Health Department budget is proposed to decrease by approximately 7% due to one layoff.

There are also some personnel changes embedded in the budget that include turning two Council on Aging positions that are not funded to be combined to one senior service coordinator position.

Additions also include two regional health positions that are funded by grants, one local enforcement position and police crisis intervention staff also funded by grants.

The FY24 school budget was $24,526,460 and the schools requested a $995,000 increase to the FY25 budget.
Budget drivers that led to the increase including an increase to regular education and special education transportation, increase in out of district tuitions, union contract increases, School Choice and a reduction in Chapter 70 funding.

For the last couple of years, McLaughlin and the School Committee have talked about the district’s reliance on School Choice to supplement staff positions in the budget and have decided to change that formula this year.
McLaughlin said, “This is the first budget in some time, perhaps ever, that is adapting the unreliable School Choice revenues that change and fluctuate from year to year. This budget has historically included substantially numbers of teachers’ salaries relying on school choice.”

The number of School Choice students enrolled in South Hadley school has decreased since the coronavirus pandemic, causing a reduction in the amount of money the school brought in.

Prior to COVID-19, South Hadley was bringing in approximately $1 million in revenue from School Choice but has dropped to as low as approximately $650,000.

The FY25 school budget included shifting $700,000 in School Choice salaries to the local budget.

South Hadley also saw a small increase in the amount of Chapter 70 funding they received this year which is state aid.

The schools are set to receive approximately $10.7 million from the state which is only a 0.5% increase from last year.

The FY25 budget included reducing 23 paraeducators and three teachers.

It also included adding approximately eight education teaching assistants, one teacher, one certified nurse assistant and one assistant principal.

The one additional teacher would be a teacher of the deaf, and the assistant principal is an archived position returning at South Hadley High School.

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