Finance Subcommittee prioritizes balancing budget in accordance with new issues



The Brookline School Committee Finance Subcommittee convened virtually to discuss logistical challenges and changes to the upcoming financial fiscal year.

Members of the Brookline School Committee Finance Subcommittee convened virtually via Zoom on Apr. 6 at 5 p.m. to discuss a variety of budget updates for the upcoming fiscal year.

The meeting began with Deputy Superintendent for Administration and Finance, Mary Ellen Normen running through certain changes that would be voted on. One of these changes included a 3 percent increase to the Brookline Early Education Project (BEEP) tuition.

The majority of the budget items that were voted on were aspects of the budget that would remain the same as the prior fiscal year. Some parts of the budget maintained included the school lunch pricing, the South Brookline bus fee for students, the fee for summer school and the cost of the PSAT, PreACT and AP exams.

There was a discussion amongst subcommittee members regarding the federal government’s decision to provide free school meals for all students until Sept. 30, 2021. This conversation involved transitioning students back to paying for meals in the coming school year.

Finance Subcommittee Co-Chair Mariah Nobrega said planning is underway with the administration.

“There is planning still underway with the Food Planning Director about transition plans that could happen over the summer,” Nobrega said.

Integrating Restaurant 108 and its service with the food services at the high school were also part of the discussion about school meals.

Following Normen’s initial budget description, and the subsequent questions from the subcommittee members, the subcommittee voted on the motion to approve the fees. Ditkoff was the only member to abstain, and the remaining members voted yes. The motion passed.

The subcommittee moved on to the 2022 fiscal year (FY22) budget, where Interim Superintendent Dr. James Marini and Normen reviewed the budget changes from last year for the upcoming fiscal year.

The change in projected requests from FY21 to FY22 is $7,081,957. Tables were shown in the slides with the projected budget requests for different categories, such as salaries and supplies.

A central category of discussion in relation to the in-depth budget was personnel expenses. Some of the notable changes were that the number of classrooms in grades K-8 reduced from 270 (a pre-COVID-19 pandemic number) to 262, and that the position of Director of Professional Development had been discontinued. Additionally, the incorporation of social workers, specifically who are able to support students in the Steps to Success program and the LGBTQIA+ community was a notable change.

Chi Chi Wu, a participant in the meeting and a staff attorney for the National Consumer Law Center, emphasized the importance of adding social workers that could benefit other minority groups.

“Having social workers that are able to serve the Asian-American community is also very important,” Wu said.

The new budget also aims to break the cycle of needing to make drastic cuts of mid-year freezes to the supplies budget, and brings the supplies much closer to an appropriate level.

The meeting closed with a conversation about the need for enrichment programs whose budget was stressed by multiple members. There was a push to make a plan about budget and strategy for programs designed for high-achieving students, and for all students that want to challenge themselves and have higher levels of learning.

Marini said this hard work was being done for the students.

“All decisions we make should be to meet the needs of all students across the spectrum,” Marini said.