WESTFIELD — In April, the Westfield Board of Education (BOE) will put its budget to a public vote for the first time in more than a decade. As presented, Superintendent Raymond González, Ed.D., said Monday, the proposed budget should help to solidify programming and alleviate the need for staffing cuts throughout the district, but it also could represent an increase of up to about $530 per household in local tax obligations.
Prior to 2010, mid-year elections were the norm for school districts across the state. At the time, the average tax-levy increase in Westfield was about 4.9 percent each year. “Until last school year, the district was able to submit budgets at cap with minimal reductions due to proactive changes. Two years of a global pandemic and the related economic disruptions to supply chains and labor markets have contributed to sharply rising costs in health benefits, transportation, out of district tuition, supplies and equipment, and other expenditures which severely outpace the District’s sources of revenue,” the district stated via its website.
While the April election cycle may be familiar to some, this year’s ballot will look a bit different, Dr. Gonzáles said Tuesday, thanks to the addition of a second budget question related to non-mandated costs necessary to maintain existing staff and programs while still implementing new levels of classroom support.
“We want to be able to continue to present to the board and to the public a budget that will avoid negative impact on students and maintain our existing programs and offerings. We want to remain within our current class sizes and enforce our enrollment guidelines,” Dr. González said. “But we also want to expand our programs and offerings.”
The proposed budget, the superintendent continued, includes potential additions like new ESL (English as a Second Language) teachers to help address a growing need within the community, new academic support teachers, more guidance counselors for the elementary schools and better access to Student Assistance Counselors (who provide a variety of mental health services) throughout the district.
The expansion of the ESL program, Dr. González said, will be included in the district’s base operational budget in order to provide students with “a program that meets their needs in their home school,” to help reduce out-of-district tuition costs.
According to information provided by the district, the first question (which deals with state-mandated operating costs like salaries, insurance and out-of-district tuition) will account for a tax-levy increase of about 3.61 percent per average assessed home (about $806,800) in Westfield. That would bring the obligation up to about $10,819 per household for the 2023-2024 school year for the school portion.
Those numbers, Business Administrator Patty Ramos said Monday, would have been the same even had the board decided to stick to its November election cycle due to a state-level, single-year exemption that allows districts to exceed the standard 2-percent cap in order to compensate for the rising costs of health care and insurance.
If the first question fails the public vote in April, it will be remanded to the town council for adjustments and approval.
The second question, meanwhile, represents a tax-levy increase of approximately 2.12 percent per average household. If the second question is not approved, district officials said Tuesday, those budgetary items (including certain staff positions and programs) would be cut and could not be reallocated for the current 2023-2024 school budget.
At this point in time, Ms. Ramos said the numbers — as well as the delineation of which positions and programs will be considered under each question — are still largely subjective to state aid.
If, Ms. Ramos said, for example, the first question was to pass as presented with a flat state allocation and only the adjusted cap in place, the average Westfield homeowner would pay about $314 more in school taxes this year than they did last year. If the second question was to pass under the same circumstances, each household would add about $218 to that obligation.
If, however, the state was to increase its contribution to the district by $500,000, as it has done in the past, the average Westfield household would still be responsible for $314 in support of the first question, but would only pay an additional $170 in support of the second.
The budget process is about to speed up to a somewhat more frantic pace, Ms. Ramos said.
The board will host a budget presentation, inclusive of an overview of proposed enhancements to be considered as part of the second question, at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, February 28.
The state aid figures, meanwhile, will be released on Thursday, March 2. The preliminary budget will be officially introduced to the public and submitted to the County Office of the Department of Education on Tuesday, March 7. The board will hold its final public hearing and vote on the budget just two weeks later.
When voters turn out to the polls on Tuesday, April 25, they also will be tasked with selecting three new board members.
Board member Michael Bielen, whose term is set to expire in April, said Tuesday that he does not intend to run for another term.
“Serving as a member of the Westfield school board has been a truly enlightening experience,” Mr. Bielen said. “It’s now time for others to step up and make a difference. The [board] is in need of fresh perspectives from young families to help shape it’s future.”
The board secretary of the Westfield Board of Education currently is accepting completed petitions for candidacy.
Petitions are due to Business Administrator/Board Secretary Ramos at 302 Elm Street, Westfield, by 3 p.m. on Monday, March 6. Petitions also may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org, with a copy to email@example.com.
The drawing of names for position on the ballot will be done by Mrs. Ramos on Wednesday, March 15, at 1 p.m., in the first-floor conference room at 302 Elm Street.
All candidates must fill out a petition as an individual. Those wishing to run on a joint ticket also must complete the joint petition.