Wellesley Schools Weather Fiscal Storm Intact
National economic woes and state budget cuts have little effect on town's programs
Editor's note: This story is part of a nationwide Patch series probing the economy's effect on local schools. The inaugural piece focuses on the Wellesley administration's ability to keep a balanced budget despite national and local economic strife.
Last fall the financial picture looked difficult. With the national economic outlook gloomy Wellesley school officials were looking at major cuts in the music and art departments, higher athletic user fees, library and staff cuts in an attempt to close a $1million budget gap.
By Town Meeting in April, however, virtually all of the cuts had been restored.
How that happened says a lot about the town's extensive long-range budget planning and it's ability to operate without reliance on the state aid that other towns find essential.
The town has an extremely comprehensive financial plan that goes five years into the future, according to Hans Larsen, the town's executive director.
Wellesley has also taken a pro-active approach to funding pensions and post retirement medical liability accounts, putting money aside over several years to lessen the burden of rising costs.
And in planning for the last fiscal year, officials took an extremely prudent approach, anticipating even less revenue than actually materialized.
"The scenario played out in our favor," Deputy Director Christopher Ketchen said.
State aid makes up just about 7 to 8 percent of the the town's approximately $115 million budget, which is significantly less than many other communities.
So when state revenue sagged, Wellesley's hit was a lot less than some municipalities where budgets depend on 40 or 50 percent from the state, Larsen said.
In addition, Larsen said his original budget proposal was made assuming Wellesley's state aid would be even lower than what was actually awarded. Federal stimulus funds and "little adjustments here and there," including spending less than anticipated on health insurance, bridged the budget gap.
So by the time the School Committee was able to present its $53.3 million budget for approval at Town Meeting, programs were able to stay intact. In addition, a new expenditure, concussion screening for middle school athletes, was added.
Elementary band and orchestra was saved, five administrative positions and other staff positions were also saved.
While no programs or positions were cut, not every line item was spared.
The budget for new library books was eliminated for the year and funds for some new technology was cut, according to School Committee Chairwoman KC Kato.
"But the PTOs and Wellesley Education Foundation has been able to pick-up some of the cost of buying new books and other things," she said.
In fact, the Bates PTO recently donated 13 new interactive smart boards to the school so that each classroom there now has one. PTOs at all the other schools have also donated the new technology that allows interactive learning, meaning that is a technology expense that didn't have to be absorbed into the school budget.
"Overall this town has been able to weather the fiscal crisis pretty well," Kato said.