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January 2017

PPS Budget - Challenge, Inspire, Prepare

Happy New Year! It’s hard to believe it’s already 2017 and we’re halfway through this school year.

At the first Board of Education meeting of each calendar year, I present the district’s proposed budget for the following school year, in this case for 2017-2018. This will be the second year for which I’ve been part of the end-to-end budget development process, which actually started all the way back in mid-October. Initial budgets from the principals and other administrators were due back to the Business Manager by November 30, and we then spent several days meeting in December to refine those initial requests. In fact, by the time you read this, we’ll have cut those initial requests by about a third as we make our ‘official’ first presentation of the budget to the Board of Education on January 11.

This is also the second year that we have utilized a zero-based budgeting concept for the development of the initial view of the budget. As you may recall from my article at this time last year, zero-based budgeting means that every line of the budget is reset to $0, and the budget is then built up from that level. Typically, that means looking at factors like enrollment and class schedules to determine what staffing levels are needed – or no longer needed, or that can be utilized in other ways. We then take into account items that are covered by contractual obligations, such as raises or step increases for our certified staff; the prices for which we’ve contracted with vendors for electricity, heating oil, natural gas, diesel fuel and other commodities; and contracted for services such as transportation and our athletic trainer.
We are constantly looking for efficiencies that then help to offset the rising cost of those contractual obligations. A good example of that has been the major changes we made this past summer to our food service operations, where we entered into a shared services agreement with two other school districts to share the expense of the Food Services Director. We also took the whole operation back in house, instead of having an outside vendor continue to run the program, because we were losing a substantial amount of money operating the program with them – enough to pay for a teacher for a whole year, in fact. Based on the first few months of operations under the new structure, we think that efficiency worked out very well. Based on the surveys – some of which were written in crayon – the kids also seem to be enjoying both the food and our cafeteria staff.

Of course, operating a school district that has as its core mission challenging, inspiring and preparing our students for the future can’t improve only through cuts or by being efficient. We need to invest in new courses, new teaching strategies and new programs to keep students engaged and make them life-long learners. To that end, we have new investments we’re proposing in this budget, including a new Advanced Placement (AP) English class at the high school; seed funding for development of a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program; new Chromebook computers to maintain the 1:1 ratio for devices to students in grades 6-12; and a continued expansion of our classroom libraries to support the Readers and Writers Workshop teaching modes we introduced last year. As you can see, there are a lot of moving parts and thoughtful deliberations that go into creating a roughly $24 million budget each year. We take that responsibility seriously, and we try to approach it as if it were our own money we were spending.

Finally, there’s one last part of this process that’s critical to the success of this budget process – involvement from all of you, our parents and taxpayers. Please consider attending the initial budget presentation at the Board of Education meeting at Terryville High School on January 11, or the workshops that are scheduled at the Board of Education offices on January 18 and 25. If you can’t make one of those meetings, it’s vital that your voice be heard at the Board of Education meeting at Terryville High School on the night of February 8, at which time we expect the Board to adopt a budget for the next year.
  
Again, we wish you happy, safe and healthy New Year, and thank you for your support of Plymouth Schools!

This article was a collaborative effort between Dr. Semmel and the Business Manager/Director of Facilities, Mr. Phil Penn. 
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