April 5, 2022 By Carol Britton Meyer
After identifying $360,000 in funds that have become available in the Fiscal 2023 school budget due to planned retirements and the fact that retired staff are typically replaced by newer staff at a lower salary, the Finance/Capital & Facilities Subcommittee is recommending using those payroll savings on positions recommended by the administration -- with a priority on hiring a fine arts director and additional Central Office staff.
School Committee member and subcommittee chair Nes Correnti provided this information to the School Committee Monday night, along with an update on the Fiscal 2022 budget projection as of April 4.
As background, following a request from the subcommittee last fall for the administration to provide a financial update this Spring to ensure that the district could apply any available FY22 funds to "effectively serve our students," a potential excess was reported, with the understanding that the amount may change throughout the year, School Committee Chair Kerry Ni told the Hingham Anchor following the meeting in response to an email inquiry.
Of the potential excess reported, approximately $900,000 relates to ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund) money received from the federal government for the purpose of providing local educational agencies with emergency relief funds "to address the impact that COVID-19 has had, and continues to have, on elementary and secondary schools across the nation," Ni explained. "These funds are intended to help address the extraordinary impact of COVID-19 on our students and should be allocated through June 30, 2024. They are not intended to be used in one fiscal year but were included [in the school budget] to ensure transparency."
The remaining potential funds, excluding the ESSER funding, amount to approximately $800,000, Correnti reported, noting that this figure is only a snapshot and that the administration has since identified uses for the $800,000, including all approved budget requests for FY’22 such as curriculum textbooks and other capital items.
Correnti also noted the ESSER funds must be used for educational expenses but suggested that their best use would be toward one-time expenses, because otherwise, once the ESSER funds run out, another funding source would have to be identified.
The Finance Subcommittee highlighted several one-time items budgeted for FY’23 that could be purchased with ESSER funds. These include $50,000 for an assessment tool for teaching; $18,000 for professional development related to that tool; and $26,000 for two new special education vans, for a total of $94,000.
Correnti explained that the original FY23 additional budget recommendations from the administration totaled approximately $850,000. "Reduced by one-time purchases of $94,000 using ESSER funds, the remaining recommendations amount to approximately $758,000 and relate to additional positions that are essential for the district," Ni said.
With regard to the $360,000 now available in the FY23 budget due to planned retirements, if the subcommittee's recommendations are approved by the School Committee and all goes as planned, $120,000 would pay the salary of a fine arts director, with Central Office staff funding amounting to $216,000 -- including a data analysis lead, human resources clerical support, and a payroll and benefits manager.
Additional retirements are expected leading up to the end of the fiscal year, which means any additional savings could potentially be applied to "needed positions by the district," Ni said.
Given the savings and the corresponding ability of the School Department to fund the crucial needs of the district for FY ‘23, Correnti said the Finance/Capital & Facilities Subcommittee is recommending that the full School Committee revote the FY’23 budget to be consistent with the budget amount approved by the Advisory Committe and Select Board.
Correnti also provided an update on the School Department revolving funds, with the School Committee committed to year-to-year financial stability. To help meet that goal, Hingham Public Schools has established certain school enterprise and revolving fund accounts that are governed by Massachusetts General Laws and School Committee Policy, Ni explained.
To ensure that these revolving funds are used as effectively as possible, the subcommittee researched and documented each School Department revolving fund, how they are typically used, and what amounts should be retained in revolving funds at the conclusion of each fiscal year. "The guidelines established also estimated a threshold of carryover balance related to need for program continuation and budget planning in the subsequent fiscal year," according to Ni.
Correnti noted that Director of Business & Support Services John Ferris and subcommittee members identified funds available in the athletic revolving fund that could potentially be applied to help offset the renovation of the Hingham High School tennis courts should Town Meeting approve that warrant article.
The article -- submitted jointly by the School Committee and the Recreation Commission -- would provide funds to build six post tension concrete tennis courts, because the existing tennis courts have reached the end of their useful life. "New courts would provide a safe playing surface for the high School tennis team and any Hingham resident who enjoys playing the sport of tennis," Ni said.
It's expected that the School Committee will discuss and vote on these recommendations during the next few weeks.