Newton School Superintendent David Fleishman presented a $178.8 million budget proposal for the 2013 fiscal year that includes more money for a growing student population, brings back social workers and psychologists to all the elementary schools, and beefs up middle school special education programs.
The proposal is a 4.1 percent, or $7 million, increase from the current school budget. And unlike this year’s budget, includes no layoffs or student fee increases.
“Last year took a lot out of a lot of people,” Fleishman said in an interview today, a few hours before presenting the budget to the school committee. “I think this budget allows us to get better….and keep some initiatives going.”
Recently negotiated union contracts that have allowed the city to keep benefit expenses down by shifting more of the costs to employees, and anticipated additional money from the state, helped soften the district’s economic outlook, Fleishman said.
But increasing enrollment continues to be a challenge in terms of cost and space constraints, he said. Newton is expecting to welcome an additional 192 students next year, bringing total enrollment to 12,114 children.
About 1 percent of the 4.1 percent increase in the proposed budget is for more furniture and additional staff to handle the student growth, he said.
That means it is unlikely that the city will start a full-day kindergarten program in the near future. While some parents have clamored for such an expansion, the district estimates it would cost $1 million more, Fleishman said.
“That’s big money,” he said. “Given our enrollment increases…. During the next five years we don’t see that.”
The district has tried to focus more resources in kindergarten through second grades, restoring the mental health professional positions to all the elementary schools and adding literacy and math support programs and bringing back the fourth-grade chorus, Fleishman said.
The recent events at Underwood Elementary School crystallized the need for additional mental health staff at the lower grades, Fleishman said.
After long-time, second-grade teacher David Ettlinger was arrested on child pornography charges in January, the district deployed counselors from other schools to Underwood. But when something happened at their home school, the counselors weren’t available, Fleishman said.
Fleishman said he is optimistic that the city will be able to fully fund the proposed budget.
The School Committee is scheduled to a public hearing on the budget on Tuesday March, 20 and will vote on it on March 26.
Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at email@example.com