HARVARD -- Enrollment projections are sliding onto the front burner for the Harvard School Committee. The figures may play prominently into two prospective capital needs for the school district: what to do with the Bromfield House, which houses the superintendent and special-education director, and when and what to do about the elementary school kindergarten wing.
Committee member Bob Sullebarger reported that enrollment is projected to decline with the trending impact to hit Hildreth Elementary School within three to four years and the Bromfield Middle/High School in four to five years.
"We'll have to watch closely enrollment numbers in those grades (kindergarten and grade 1) this spring," said Interim School Superintendent Joseph Connelly.
Sullebarger said the subcommittee will also draft a school choice policy, which would cap the number of slots available per grade level while taking into account the Devens student population attending Harvard schools under contract with MassDevelopment.
Another prong of the subcommittee's work will be to identify the "incremental cost" for each choice student added to the district. A choice student's home district pays $5,000 per student to Harvard, while Harvard spends an average of $13,500 per pupil on education.
The issue is "understand(ing) what's driving choice-out decisions and how our choice- and charter(-out) numbers compare to comparable towns," said Sullebarger.
The subcommittee will also explore different formulas to project enrollment.
School Committee member Keith Cheveralls suggested studying whether "Harvard exists as a microcosm of what else is going on in the Commonwealth" or whether Harvard's own real-estate landscape can be blamed. "Look at what Harvard has grown into."
Twenty years ago, a prospective homebuyer could find a "somewhat affordable" home in Harvard, said Cheveralls. But now, populations have aged, and empty-nesters are selling at high price points. Could that be to blame for Harvard's shrinking enrollment, Cheveralls asked.
"I think there's a benefit to looking more broadly," said Cheveralls. "Does that make sense?"
"You're right on target," said Sullebarger. Other issues to be explored by the Enrollment Subcommittee are whether staffing should be reduced with shrinking enrollment, and/or whether smaller class sizes can enhance the educational experience.
The committee unanimously approved an $11,812,996 first-draft fiscal 2014 budget. The draft budget seeks a 2.85-percent ($327,939) increase over the current $11.48 million School Department budget, or what Connelly called the "absolutely-necessary funding level needed."
The Finance Committee requested level-service (not level-spending) budgets from each department, along with a list of proposed cuts and supplemental spending each department wished to offer for consideration.
Connelly walked the committee through the various cost centers. Connelly said Central Office costs have risen 6.74 percent ($48,000) to $766,000. A $30,000 line item lingers to pay whomever is brought on as superintendent starting July 1. Transportation costs are also up 2.5 percent ($15,000), he said.
The largest portion of the 6 percent ($144,000) uptick in the $2.5 million Hildreth Elementary School cost center is $140,000 for salary adjustments for staff changes, transfers and degrees earned ($82,000) and cost of living and step increases ($58,000).
The Bromfield School costs are to increase by 1.34 percent ($50,000) to $3.79 million, due largely to staffing shifts. Special-education costs would increase 2 percent ($72,000) to $3.54 million. And technology spending is to increase 2 percent ($5,000) to $244,000.
Outside the omnibus budget, the revolving Bromfield Athletics Department account is projected to have a $15,000 surplus. Projected receipts and user fees are estimated to generate $237,769, while there is $221,920 pinpointed in projected expenses. Connelly said the $15,000 surplus would seed the following year's startup expenses.
The "Draft 1" budget was approved for submission to the Finance Committee. A final School Committee budget vote is scheduled for Feb. 4 for submission to the Finance Committee. The budget is set by annual Town Meeting on April 6. The draft budget is on the district website www.psharvard.org.
Connelly said he and his administrative team prepared two other lists -- $132,000 in supplemental spending requests, and $327,939 in potential areas to cut in the department if needed.
There were seven supplemental spending requests, including: $5,000 for increased school nurse coverage, and $25,500 for teaching stipends to create added math, science, world language, or social studies classes if and when class sizes creep up to or over 24 students per class.
There's also a $55,500 supplemental spending request for a K through 12 adjustment counselor to address needs of students with (among other things) Asperger's syndrome, anxiety and depressive disorders and family situations, $8,500 for added guidance counselor and $7,000 for added HES secretarial coverage.
Other supplemental spending requests include $21,280 for replacement textbooks at the Bromfield School; and $10,000 for two $5,000 stipends to create unified arts and guidance department leaders.
If cuts were needed, Connelly and his team located $327,939 that could be cut from the draft budget if necessary, including $87,000 worth of cuts to supplies and equipment. Connelly explained that those cuts would leave outdated textbooks and technology equipment in use, which could jeopardize the district's alignment with the incoming Common Core curriculum. At the Hildreth Elementary School, $41,700 worth of cuts could knock out recently-launched world language and handwriting program offerings.
Other cuts include dropping from six to five buses, saving $54,000 but boosting riding times by 10 to 15 minutes. And the fourth area in a catchall category called "personnel" would save $145,000 through cuts not specifically identified.
The projection in state aid is gloomy, said Finance Director Lorraine Leonard. State spending has apparently outstripped revenues, meaning balanced-budget mandated state "9C" cuts are likely. "They may not then be able to give more to the towns as they have before," said Leonard.
The five-year capital plan was altered. On the front burner is attention for the crumbling Pond Road parking lot and pathways behind the Bromfield School which also serve the Town Library. School Committee Chair SusanMary Redinger said the selectmen "felt the parking lot needed to be linked into the larger town interest."
"We want to b e able to walk, fundamentally, from Town Hall to the pond," said Redinger. Four schemes show varying degrees of work for the lot. Some called for a reconfigured exit onto Pond Road to improve visibility for motorists. Cost could range from $113,000 to $175,000 depending on the degree the DPW assists, said Redinger.
The library trustees and the Parks and Recreation Department had not yet weighed in on the idea, said Redinger. The committee voted unanimously to push the parking lot project to the front burner in a request to the CPIC in an amount not to exceed $175,000 and pending support from the selectmen, library and park department by Dec. 13.
The committee agreed to break down a barrier for the Harvard Cable Access television studios to move into the lower level of the Bromfield middle school. A concrete berm would be cut, and a gas line moved, to provide access to the area. The committee approved a $39,000 request for the project.