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The Arlington School Committee and Superintendent Elizabeth Homan, in a March 14 meeting lasting less than 45 minutes, discussed the slightly revised version of the fiscal 2025 school budget, which includes the possibility of as many as eight layoffs later this year.

No one from the public spoke during the hearing on the new budget, and the discussion of possible layoffs took place later.

"We really hope that everyone who wants to stay in Arlington can stay," Homan said at the meeting. She said that with the typical attrition rate -- that is, other employees retiring, resigning or being reassigned within the district -- it may well be that all who wish to can be retained at APS in some capacity.

The committee is expected to vote on that fiscal 2025 budget at its next meeting, on Thursday, March 21. FY25 begins July 1.

 Superintendent elaborates

Homan further explained the budgetary situation via email to YourArlington on Tuesday, March 19:

"We always evaluate our resources for efficiencies and clearly articulate those efficiencies in the budget. We have done this every year since I arrived three years ago. This is both in an effort to be transparent about our use of public funds and in an effort to make space in the budget for positions and roles that are needed for our strategic priorities and our students.

"This year, in particular, a significant shift in enrollments from elementary level to the secondary level requires a reduction in elementary sections. We have known about this expected enrollment shift for years (see enrollment projections on page 27 and enrollment shift graph on page 24)."

See the chart below as well as the documents here >>

She continued: "Non-professional status teachers are the most at risk of losing their current positions, but if there are other vacant positions for which they are qualified, we will do our best to find somewhere for them to land if they wish to stay in Arlington. Every year, about 100 teachers leave the district, and we are only eliminating eight positions; this means most people will be able to fill another role in the district."

Timelines, reassignments and notification processes are expected as follows: "This will play out over the next several months, as we head into fall. Some teachers whose positions were eliminated may find other positions in other districts, while some may find alternative placements in Arlington. We have already notified impacted staff that their positions will be eliminated next school year. Official notification timelines for involuntary transfers or Reduction In Force (RIF) letters (which are highly unlikely in this scenario) will follow the Unit A Contract [of the Arlington Education Association, representing certificated teachers]."

AEA President Julianna Keyes has continued to decline to comment for publication about salaries, contract negotiations, the budget or any possible layoffs.

Covid-19-related monies

The district has not relied on pandemic-relief funding nearly as much as larger nearby public-school districts.

"We are in the middle of a large curriculum rollout, and the pandemic relief dollars were helpful for professional development," Homan told YourArlington in late February, speaking about teacher training related to the district's ongoing transition to Expeditionary Learning, the newly adopted reading program that is still being implemented. "We are trying to figure out where to take those resources from now."

Inflation is predicted to affect next year’s budget, which makes room for an anticipated 40-percent increase in the cost of electricity for the 11 school buildings the town operates. “This is happening all over the country, all over the commonwealth, and is having a pretty significant impact,” Homan said at the Feb. 29 Arlington School Committee meeting.

Employee pay

Arlington’s general fund will contribute $7 million more this coming fiscal year than the waning one, including a $3.1-million allocation from the successful November 2023 property-tax override vote. Town spending will cover increased funding for special education and a bump in educator pay, the committee members were told.

The average teacher salary in Arlington was $83,000 in 2021, according to the most recent state data, roughly $3,000 less than the average salary that a Massachusetts teacher makes.

"When we compare ourselves to our peers with similar tax bases we have struggled to pay teachers competitively," Homan told YourArlington late last month. "We are neighbors with Lexington, Somerville and other communities that have a fairly high teacher salary [and] with whom we compete for candidates."

Roughly 70 percent of the school budget was spent on salaries before Homan became superintendent, in mid-2021. She said the district now spends more than 80 percent of the budget on salaries, leaving little room for increased pay without an influx of dollars. Fortunately, the property-tax override, approved by voters last year and to take effect this coming July 1, is providing those extra dollars, Homan said.

“We were really excited about that override being passed and are dedicated to making sure that we set aside funds and resources to meet the commitments of the [competitive compensation] override,” Homan said at the Feb. 29 meeting.

In other business:
  • A $10,000 grant from the local Dan Kelly Foundation will fund the DK4 Sports for All Sorts after-school sports program, which is to start April 25 and is targeted to multilingual learners;
  • The additional morning bus from East Arlington to Ottoson Middle School so far has 29 of the potential 45 seats filled;
  • Gretchen Saunders has been hired to become principal as of July 1 at Hardy Elementary School; she is now an assistant principal in Chelsea;
  • The consent agenda passed unanimously; and
  • The committee voted 7-0 to go into closed session for  continued discussion about negotiations with bargaining units. 
Watch ACMi video of March 14, 2024, meeting:

Thursday, March 7, 2024: Arlington Public Schools' proposed $103m budget prioritizes staff pay, student needs

This news summary by YourArlington Editor Judith Pfeffer was published Tuesday, March 19, 2024, and it contains some material previously used in YourArlington's March 7, 2024, article by freelance writer Emily Piper-Vallillo

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