School Finance Subcommittee considers importance of transparency with budget



The School Finance Subcommittee discussed adding more categories to the school budgets and finding ways to increase transparency about changes to the budget.

The School Finance Subcommittee met virtually via Zoom on Nov. 17 at 4:30 p.m. to discuss structuring future meetings and guidelines regarding the 2023 budget.

The subcommittee spoke extensively about potentially adding more categories to the budget.

Co-chair of the Brookline School Committee (BSC) Susan Wolf-Ditkoff said the current categories are meaningless and need to be changed.

BSC vice-chair David Pearlman said adding more categories increases the transparency of their budget.

“Is there a reason why we need to restrict ourselves to only five categories? It seems to me that we would be increasing transparency both for the general public and for ourselves if we had even 20 categories,” Pearlman said.

Wolf-Ditkoff said an important part of transparency is accurately conveying changes to the budget during committee meetings.

“It doesn’t have to be Shakespeare, but we need some narrative about what’s happening in a meaningful way. It’s not just the categories {of the budget}, it’s what we are trying to accomplish tied to numbers as opposed to a PowerPoint that is hard to understand,” Wolf-Ditkoff said.

BSC and town meeting member Mariah Nobrega said the Universal Summer Program should be added to the budget guidelines. The Universal Summer Program provides students entering grades one through eight an opportunity to take part in project-based learning over the summer.

Nobrega said when planning the budget for 2023, inflation and supply chain issues need to be accounted for.

“This year, there is the highest inflation in something like 20-30 years from what I’m reading. It has to be front and center,” Nobrega said.

Nobrega said having public input is helpful and the subcommittee appreciated the questions brought up in the previous meeting. Updated heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) at the high school was an important topic and the subcommittee added it to the Capital Improvements Program (CIP) requests.

“HVAC is already on our CIP request. I was glad that we got some public comments for the mandated public hearing and it’s helpful to have those people come to speak to us,” Nobrega said.

The subcommittee guidelines for the 2023 budget included improving the lifecycle of Public Schools of Brookline (PSB) employees. BSC member Helen Charlupski said it was unclear what improving the lifecycle of a PSB employee means.

Pearlman said the guideline the BSC established is focused on providing opportunities and making sure people of color who work in PSB are valued in the system.

“{The plan} is referring to providing professional development opportunities and making sure our PSB employees, especially those of color, feel valued and stay in the system,” Pearlman said.