The South Hadley School Committee, superintendent and assistant superintendent discuss the FY25 budget.
Reminder Publishing screen capture by Tyler Garnet

SOUTH HADLEY — The School Committee hosted a public hearing for its fiscal year 2025 budget on March 20.

Superintendent Mark McLaughlin and Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Business Operations Jennifer Voyik presented the FY25 budget.

The FY24 school budget was $24,526,460 and the schools requested a $995,000 increase to the FY25 budget.

The presentation went over 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.

Voyik added, “We were receiving the same amount of school choice funds in from the state for students attending our district but with [COVID-19] we took a large dip with students coming into the district but the number of salaries we were still required to pay for remained.”

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 small decrease has to do with the lower enrollment numbers at South Hadley schools, according to Voyik.

The 2019-2020 school saw 1,900 students enrolled but as of March 1, the 2023-24 school year has 1,673 students enrolled.

The state takes the number of students a district has and multiplies it by $30 to come up with the increase in Chapter 70 funding for that district.

“Since the required foundation aid is less than we received last year, that is how we are now in a minimum aid situation, so the minimum aid is $30 per pupil increase leading to $54,510 increase but we still have a list of budget drivers we have to account for,” Voyik added.

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.
McLaughlin discussed how hard it is to have to make reductions but that they were thoroughly thought out.

“The head tells us logically this is something that should happen, but the heart tells us something else. These last few days were very heart heavy because no one likes to present staff reductions. The challenge however is to make sure the heart doesn’t overrule the head and therefore disadvantage the efficiency of the school system,” McLaughlin added.

After the presentation, members from the community expressed their concerns with the budget especially the reduction to the special education department.

The reductions are almost evenly taking place in each school with an average of six paraeducators being reduced in Michael E. Smith Middle School, Mosier and Plains Elementary and three reduction at South Hadley High School.
After nearly three hours of conversation, the School Committee unanimously approved the FY25 budget.

The proposed FY25 school budget is available on the main page at www.southhadleyschools.org.

The Select Board was due to present the full town budget that night as well but due to the school presentation going over their expected time, that presentation began but is set to resume on March 26 with another public hearing.

The town will have the opportunity to discuss the budget and vote on it at Town Meeting on May 8.

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