Dear Masconomet Community,
On March 15, 2023 the Masconomet Regional School Committee adopted its budget for Fiscal Year 2024 (FY24), which will cover the 2023-2024 school year. For FY24, the Total Expenditures Budget for the District totals $40,206,736, which is an increase of $1,839,604 or 4.8% over the current fiscal year (FY23). After accounting for $7,820,471 in Federal, State and Local funding to be put towards the Masconomet FY24 Budget, $32,386,265 remains to be apportioned to our three member towns. Boxford’s total assessment for Masconomet’s FY24 Budget is $12,085,026, an increase of $1,136,773 or 10.4% over FY23. Middleton’s total assessment of $11,046,622 is an increase of $740,725, or 7% over the current year. Topsfield’s total assessment is $9,254,617, an increase of $621,660 or 8.3% over the current year.
The District’s Total Expenditures Budget is composed of two components, the Operating Budget, which typically are the funds required to continue the daily operations of the schools, such as salaries, textbooks, supplies, and ordinary repairs and the Capital Budget, which would include the funding for items such as purchasing of real estate, designing and constructing facilities, including plans and architect’s fees, completing extraordinary repairs, and purchasing the furnishings associated with these types of projects. The Capital Budget would also include payments on any debt the District may take on in completing these capital projects. In order for Masconomet’s FY24 Total Expenditures Budget to “pass,” the full amounts included in the Operating and Capital Budgets must both be approved by Annual Town Meeting in two of our three member communities. The details of Masconomet’s FY24 Operating and Capital Budgets are explained in the paragraphs below.
For FY24, Masconomet’s Operating Expense Budget (after Offsets) is $39,757,686, which is an increase of $2,183,304 (5.8%) over FY23. There are several components of the Operating Budget that are driving this increase, many of which are outside of the District’s direct control. In October of 2022, the Massachusetts Operational Services Division, the state office responsible for setting tuition rates in private schools that serve students with severe special needs, or “out-of-district placements,” approved a 14% tuition increase for these schools for FY24. To put this into perspective, these rates typically have increased around 2% per year. This unprecedented increase, when coupled with an increase in the number of Masconomet students requiring education in an out-of-district placements, translated into an increase of $712,062 in Masconomet’s Budget.
Student transportation is another area where costs have increased significantly. This year, Masconomet and the Tri-Town School Union put the contract for transporting students to and from school for the years 2023-2028 out to bid. As has been the case with transportation services for school across Massachusetts for the past several years, only one company submitted a bid. This bid submission outlined a 15% price increase in the first year of the contract. As there is typically very little competition between transportation companies in Massachusetts for local contracts, we had no choice other than to accept this $177,294 increase. Transportation services for students with special needs follows a similar pattern. The budgeted increase in our transportation services for student with special needs for FY24 is $219,921 or 76.3% over current year.
The increases to the three areas of out-of-district tuitions, and regular and special education transportation total $1,109,277 or 50.8% of the total increase to the FY24 Operating Expense Budget. As the services paid for in these areas of our operating budget are required by law, the only way to offset these increased would be to eliminate services in other areas. Given the educational, and social-emotional needs of our students’ post-pandemic, the School Committee and District Administration do not recommend making cuts to other programs at this time. This leaves us with no choice but to ask our members communities to support these increases to our Operating Budget.
Because the increases to the Masconomet Operating Expense Budget are larger than in prior years, they will likely require a Proposition 2 ½ Override in two of our three communities. Boxford and Topsfield will therefore present the Masconomet Operating Budget in two parts at their respective Town Meetings. One part will contain the amount that does not trigger the Proposition 2 ½ Override requirement. The second part will contain the amount of the Masconomet Operating Budget that is in excess of the Proposition 2 ½ limit. In order for the Masconomet Budget to be approved in a specific town, the full amount of the town’s share of the Masconomet Operating Budget will need to pass, along with the Capital Budget request.
Regarding Capital expenses, the FY24 Masconomet Budget includes $449,050, which is the funding necessary to complete the design and permitting of “Phase I” of Masconomet’s Turf Field Plan. As is the case with Operating Expenses, the $449,050 in Capital Expenses will be apportioned to each of the three towns. Boxford’s share of this amount is $167,451, Middleton’s share is $150,162 and Topsfield’s is $131,437. At the current time, all three towns propose paying for this assessment through “free cash,” which means approval will have no impact in the tax rate. Phase I of the Turf Field Plan contemplates the construction of two multi-purpose artificial turf fields on the Masconomet Campus, including the landscaping, spectator seating, lighting and support buildings that go along with an athletic facility of this type. A committed group of parents and community members have begun the process of soliciting private donors to fundraise for the construction of this project. The $449,050 requested in the Masconomet FY24 Capital Budget will move the project through the required engineering studies to a final design and obtain the permits needed to proceed with construction from the Town of Boxford. Supporting this $449,050 request will also send the message to potential donors to the project that our communities are committed to seeing it through to completion. Masconomet has long prided itself for the prowess of its athletic teams. Being able to continue this tradition requires that our student-athletes are able to practice and compete in facilities that have become the standard for our region. More information on Masconomet’s Turf Field Project can be found on the Masconomet Website.
Masconomet’s FY24 Total Expenditures Budget represents the results of a five-month process of analysis, reflection, discussion and compromise among the constituents of the Masconomet Community. The Masconomet Administration and School Committee feel this budget maintains the high-quality education that our communities have come to expect, while at the same time, respects the financial limitations of our taxpayers. In this time where our students are still recovering from the effects of the global pandemic, it is of the upmost importance that we are able to maintain the services necessary to meet the needs of our students. I am confident that the FY24 Masconomet Budget accomplishes this goal.
The next step in the process of approving Masconomet’s Budget is Annual Town Meeting, which will be held in Topsfield on May 2nd at 7:00 PM at the Masconomet Auditorium, in Middleton on May 9th at 7:00 PM at the Howe Manning School Gymnasium and in Boxford on May 9th at 7:00 PM in the Masconomet Auditorium. I urge you to attend you respective Town Meeting and support all of the articles that comprise the Masconomet FY24 Budget. For more information regarding the details of Masconomet’s FY24 Budget, please visit the Masconomet Website.
Michael M. Harvey, Ed.D.