SOUTHBOROUGH, Mass. — The K-8 School Committee approved a nearly $17.7 million budget Wednesday for fiscal year 2014 that looks almost identical to the preliminary version that Superintendent Charles Goborn put forward last month.
The $17,690,872 budget would be a 4.06 percent increase over this year's $16,999,992 budget — or $690,880 more.
Although last month's preliminary budget indicated that $200,000 would be cut through staffing reductions, Gobron said that would hurt students. Instead, after speaking with the principals, he decided to recommend cutting $100,000 from special education outside placement, citing a lower-than-expected need. It was a "gamble," Gobron said, because special education needs fluctuate as students come and go.
Not everyone on the committee agreed with the decision. "I don't have a confident bone in my body that [the state] isn't going to come back midway through the year and cut our circuit breaker again," Committee Chair Kathleen Harrigan-Polutchko said. "If they do we can probably absorb it, but next year will be tumultuous."
The schools would not have to ask the town for more money if the plan backfires, Gobron said. Rather, he said, he would find a way to make the budget work.
An additional $100,000 in cuts would come by eliminating a first grade teaching position and making additional cuts in the salary account, which will be finalized in the spring.
Some teachers who were expected to retire have now finalized their plans, Gobron said, meaning that $98,985 will be cut from the budget as expected.
In FY13, the budget increased by only 0.68 percent. This year, Gobron said, mandatory special education costs are driving $437,352 of the budget increase. The school district has little say in the matter, he said.
"You cannot predict mandatory special education costs," Gobron said. "What we can do is invest our money in innovative programs in the schools."
Committee member Jeffrey Capra said he was concerned about the lack of technology funding. "One of our key goals is to provide 21st-century skills," he said. "Yet, we have to put the money behind that at some point."
The school department will continue to work with town officials to come up with a fiscally responsible budget, Gobron said. The budget will go before voters for final approval at town meeting in April.