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Hopkinton School District proposes $460,000 addition to budget

When Hopkinton residents sit down this spring to vote on their school district’s annual budget, they will face a document that officials call lean but also reflective of recent strains, including lost revenue from low student enrollment and obligatory increases in special education funding and employee pension contributions.

The new costs add some $460,000 to last year’s $17.2 million overall budget. If approved, the new budget would increase taxes by about 97 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value, said district Superintendent Steven Chamberlin. For an average $250,000 home, that would mean about $240 per year.

Chamberlin said the budget also includes cost-cutting measures he hopes will demonstrate an intent to operate responsibly while still providing a quality education.

“This budget maintains the core principles at each of our schools,” he said. “We’ve at least tried to maintain what we believe is essential to what we do.”

Chamberlin said he and the school board have proposed eliminating a maintenance position and cutting certain supply, food service and wellness program costs. The board members cut approximately $200,000 from the budget he initially presented to them in December, he said.

But what will likely take center stage between now and the March 9 school meeting are the $268,930 in pension increases and $186,000 in new special education funding.

Chamberlin and school board Chairman David Luneau described the increases as mostly out of their hands. The pension spike is a result of reduced state contributions to public-employee retirement funds.

The special education jump is due to a growing need for some district students with learning disabilities to be enrolled in specialized out-of-district programs, Chamberlin said, adding that he could not go into detail about those programs because of family confidentiality concerns.

“It’s a touchy topic because we can’t go into specifics,” he said. “But what I will say, I was in the building for 10 years as an administrator, and the opportunity to work with kids with needs truly made me grow as a person. But there are times when the situation is one where those students will benefit – what’s best for them – is to get hands-on training in a specialized settings.”

Chamberlin said he is hopeful the community will support the budget requests but said if it does not the district will probably have to make staffing cuts to pay the new pension and special education bills.

“I understand that the economy is still difficult for many,” he said. “Hopkinton has been incredibly generous in support of our schools, and I respect the process and will hear what the community has to say. I think the school board did a great job in making it as least impactful for this community as possible. But it’s a struggle, and I completely understand that.”

In addition to the proposed budget, residents will also be asked in March to approve a renegotiated three-year contract with the district’s support staff, which includes office, food service, student and library employees.

Chamberlin said the contracts include slight wage increases to make rates more regionally competitive and a new cost-saving “longevity” rubric that pays employees who stay with the district for more than 10 years in five-year blocks rather than annually, as is current practice. The overall cost increases for the new contracts would be about $68,000 for the first year, $66,000 for the second and $48,000 for the third.

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