Fresh off Advisory briefing, Wellesley School Committee holding FY25 public budget hearing

The Wellesley School Committee on Tuesday, Feb. 13 at 6:30pm is slated to hold a public hearing online for its proposed FY25 budget. (Update: No one spoke at the hearing.)

The School Committee at its meeting on Jan. 30 (see Wellesley Media recording) approved an FY25 operating budget of $91M presented by the Wellesley Public Schools administration and a roughly $1.3M cash capital budget for FY25. (See the WPS FY25 voted budget below.)

The School Committee and administration then briefed the Advisory Committee on Feb. 7 (see Wellesley Media recording) as that town body readies to vet articles for Annual Town Meeting in late March.

School Committee Chair Dr. Craig Mack introduced the presentation, though it was Superintendent Dr. David Lussier and Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Operations Cynthia Mahr who did most of the talking after that, sharing context and hard numbers, and answering Advisory members’ questions during a roughly 2-and-a-half hour session.

Mack said the schools team, with support from many others in town, worked hard to bring the proposed budget in at the 3.7% increase guideline from the Select Board. Most of that increase comes from the cost of continuing to provide the same services (aka, level services) offered this year.

“This budget certainly reflects our commitment to our students and our educators,” Mack said during his opening statement. “We began building it by looking at level service items and the core items to our work. We considered many of the financial drivers in the district and considered items from our strategic plan that we could begin addressing this year, all while making targeted investments in our students. We recognize that we have a responsibility of being good stewards of the town’s resources and we take this seriously. We hope you’ll see this reflected in the budget…”

This marks the first budget since what Lussier termed the “long and challenging process” of the school system negotiating with educators on a new contract last spring that brought with it financial increases. Though as Mahr later pointed out, the budget includes significant savings as well from the reduction of more than 20 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions associated with Upham Elementary School closing at the end of this school year. The Upham closure also made putting the budget together trickier, as certain people and costs are shifting from 1 building to another.

Lussier went on explain some of the other context around the budget, which syncs with a new strategic plan fueled in large part through efforts to achieve academic excellence and to support all students. The budget is being proposed as the Hunnewell and Hardy Elementary Schools open (Hunnewell in February, Hardy in time for the next school year), redistricting goes into effect, and enrollment continues to slide due to various factors, including lower birth rates and a higher percentage of students attending private schools. The superintendent described the ability to design the new schools in a way that truly focuses on the needs of students and educators is a rare opportunity, whereas the school system has often been in a position of retrofitting existing buildings to meet needs. Wellesley will have just 6 elementary schools for the first time since 2001, as Sprague came online in 2002 to make for 7 schools.

Some notables in the proposed budget highlighted by Lussier and Mahr included:

  • A state-mandated 4.6% increase for out-of-district placements—higher than historical increases, but not nearly as shocking as last year’s 14% rise that threw school districts across the state for a loop.
  • Wellesley continues to slash fees for transportation in an effort to get more kids to ride the bus ($100 lower for individuals, $200 lower for families).
  • Trading out paraprofessionals for a crisis interventionist at the pre-school level to help address what Lussier described as kids coming to school with “incredibly complex social, emotional and behavioral needs right now.”
  • A pilot program to add an assistant principal/Team chair at Hardy to address myriad challenges pulling elementary school administrators in many directions at once, not the least of which is that, as Lussier described: “Wellesley parents remain as intense as ever—a passion about education and that level of engagement is incredibly time consuming.”
  • Pandemic-period relief funds are now going away, so positions funded with those dollars that are still needed must be funded in other ways
  • Increased costs for physical and cyber security


wps budget

Advisory members had plenty of questions for the school administration, including those related to staff cuts in light of falling enrollment. Lussier stated this time around, as he has in the past, that the relationship between staff numbers and student numbers isn’t linear, and is different at different school levels given the way classrooms are structured. The administration does, however, expect that the number of elementary classrooms will fall from 94 to 91 for FY25, and that will directly result in the need for 6 less staff. The closing of Upham, and having 1 fewer school building, will allow for certain staff positions (a school nurse and principal, for example) to be eliminated as well.

“Easily the largest category of increases in FTEs has been in student services and special education,” Lussier said, referring to historical increases in staff. “Even though our total enrollment may be declining, those FTEs are dependent on student need. It doesn’t matter what the total population is.”

Lussier acknowledged the challenge in budgeting for immediate needs vs. those outlined in the strategic plan, which he stressed was not “written in stone.”

One Advisory member not in attendance asked through the Chair when we should expect a real cost reduction in the school budget.

Lussier said for now the school system is redeploying savings it comes up with “into new areas to calibrate our work more effectively.” He emphasized as well that most school costs are not discretionary in that they are written into employee contracts.

Advisory members also shared concerns about the rise in recent years of the percentage of students from Wellesley going to private schools, now at around 25%. Lussier noted that less than 20% of families with students exiting the public school system fill out a survey that might help answer questions about their decisions.

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