Finance Subcommittee discusses potential changes to 2021 and 2022 school budgets



The Brookline School Committee Finance Subcommittee discussed the new updated budget for the 2021 and 2022 fiscal years and potential noon-personnel cuts.

Members of the Brookline School Committee Finance Subcommittee convened via Zoom at 5 p.m. on Thursday, March 11 to discuss the updated school budget for the 2021 and 2022 fiscal years and to contemplate future non-personnel cuts.

The subcommittee focused on reviewing the budgets for service, supplies, as well as utilities and equipment categories. Finance Subcommittee Chair Mariah Nobrega said that the town’s budget should mirror its priorities.

“We should be thinking about if the budget is a statement of priorities, and how we make sure our priorities are then enacted through the actual expenses,” Nobrega said.

Deputy Superintendent for Administration and Finance Mary Ellen Normen said the subcommittee could approach managing the overall budget by assigning individual rigid budgets for each major part of the expense line.

“For [the budget in years] 18, 19, 20 and 21, we’ve had a budget freeze. So our question is, does it make sense to take our budget and reallocate it based on a per-pupil amount and then say, ‘okay folks, we’re level funding the supplies, materials, and contracted services that all make up this expense line, and we won’t have a budget freeze next year,’” Normen said.

Director of School Building Services Operations Matt Gillis said the budget freeze in 2020 was due to expenses induced by the pandemic.

The current budget for 2021 included multiple areas where subcommittee members sought more funding. Coordinator of K-8 Social Studies Gabriel McCormick said the budget freeze prevented necessary teacher training.

“In 2018, the state released a new framework for social studies and in certain grades, there was a pretty significant change in what teachers should be teaching. Ideally, we would do some professional learning on those new regions of the world that teachers haven’t been asked to teach historically and now are in the new framework,” McCormick said. “Because of the budget freeze, we haven’t been able to do that work that might require subject matter experts.”

McCormick said that the subcommittee needed to recognize that departments’ budgets and resources could be reduced because of dues administration needs to make.

“I think often administrators’ dues have been included in this, like historically in the social studies budget, the curriculum coordinator’s dues for National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) was. For performing arts, in order for our students to participate in district solo ensemble, the teacher needs to be a dues-paying member to the association, so because he doesn’t want to hurt our students based on an individual teacher’s decision, Kenny [Kozol] covers the cost out of the performing arts budget,” McCormick said.

With a public comment, Kyle Tompkins, speaking on behalf of Enrichment and Challenge Support (ECS) specialists in Brookline, responded to a proposal that the ECS program be suspended next year. He argued that the department was productive with funding and has provided valuable interactive learning for students.

Gillis, meanwhile, said that having contractors conduct some of the building cleanings had many benefits for Brookline workers. He requested a $694,000 increase in next year’s budget to continue this contracted work.

“We have a hybrid cleaning model and it works rather well for us, where some of the cleaning is performed by our employees and the other part of it is performed by vendor services,” Gillis said.

School Committee member Helen Charlupski addressed potential modifications of the budget due to the COVID-19 pandemic for 2022.

“Things that we haven’t done in the last year because of COVID I’m not sure are going to happen this coming year, so we may want to think about having a placeholder for them somewhere in 23 but for 22,” Charlupski said.

The meeting ended with Override Study Committee Co-Chair Susan Wolf Ditkoff, noting that the subcommittee needs to be cognizant that the issues they had been discussing were very time-sensitive and that more information can allow their decisions to be made faster.

Ditkoff said that the subcommittee should take the time given to reflect on the known facts and relevant data, to best reach an informed decision within the coming days.

“It is worth pausing to think about what information we’ll have by when so we are able to make certain kinds of decisions because I think we’re all aware that the clock is ticking and that there are tons of issues,” Ditkoff said. “Putting those into one frame gets us to a budget that we can have this conversation about, especially if programs are being impacted and positions are being eliminated.”