SOUTH HADLEY — During the School Committee meeting on Feb. 1, Superintendent Mark McLaughlin and Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Business Operations Jennifer Voyik discussed the upcoming fiscal year 2025 budget.

Voyik and McLaughlin brought up two obstacles they anticipate affecting the FY25 budget; the reliance on School Choice revenue and Chapter 70 funding.
For the last couple of years, McLaughlin and the School Committee have talked about district’s reliance on School Choice to supplement staff positions in the budget.

“That is really an unfortunate bind that the district put itself in some time ago and we have identified that as an issue that is going to need to be resolved and addressed at some point. This is the year that challenge is going to become front and center,” McLaughlin added.

Voyik shared that South Hadley schools used to have around 160 to 175 School Choice students before the coronavirus pandemic, but those numbers have dropped to the 60 to 80 student range.

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.

“At some point, when you are carrying over a million dollars in salaries when the district’s relying on that for over a million dollars of your salaries, it’s going to become a problem at some point, and this is the year where we can’t sustain anymore.”

Voyik added that they will be looking at moving $700,000 in salaries to the local budget in order to have a balanced budget.

South Hadley is projected to receive $676,000 in School Choice but have $1.3 million to support in School Choice salaries.

“That is where the $700,000 comes from. Could I say $625,000? Sure, but we need to move more that what we’re taking in just in case something else happens,” Voyik said.

Voyik said that the district will look at every possible program right now including the special education program and its alignment in all of the schools and class sizes but the main priority is to not cut any positions.

Voyik said, “We are just trying to see what we can do to not cut because the goal is not to cut teaching positions, not to take back what we built up over the last couple of year but what can we do to streamline taking in all of the information in order to support the move of those salaries.”

The second obstacle that was discussed at the School Committee meeting was the amount of Chapter 70 funds South Hadley schools will be receiving. Chapter 70 funds are the state program to aid public elementary and secondary schools.

Voyik discussed the Student Opportunity Act funds increase South Hadley is expected to receive.

She said, “We’ve been very lucky, as most districts have been as part of the Student Opportunity Act to receive a million dollar increase over the last couple of years and we still have a couple of years left of Student Opportunity Act so you would think that we would still have a pretty decent increase this year but between a combination of continued enrollment decreases and also a change in the formula, we are only having an increase this year of $54,510 for last year’s Chapter 70 funds.”

Voyik also shared that 236 out 318 districts in Massachusetts are set to receive a less than 3% increase in their Chapter 70 funding, 161 communities are receiving 1% and 62 communities are receiving less than 1% increase in Chapter 70 funding.

“That is the problem-solving puzzle that we get to look at and try to figure out the best way to research everything in the district and take a really careful eye at what we are doing and how things are aligned, seeing if there is a better way to streamline things. I think that Mark [McLaughlin] and I are cautiously optimistic with some of the conversations we have had,” Voyik added.

McLaughlin shared that his administration team received this numbers to share an exact plan during the School Committee meeting but will have more answers and a presentation soon.

He added, “The challenge of the reality that the budget is presenting to us as it relates to School Choice causes us to do what I think we have already been doing which is to really look at where investments can be made and where revaluation of programming and structure and all of that happen. In the near future we will be presenting our plan for that, that will address the issues and we are confident that we will be able to present something that is streamlined, makes organizational sense that shows organizational growth and our willingness to tackle the tough challenges.”

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