School Board’s Budget Increases Very Slightly Over 2022

Increase of .09% is mindful of impact on taxpayers

By Aimee Menard

The Andover School Board, AE/MS and SAU administration, and Andover Budget Committee have been collaborating to craft and bring forward a budget that effectively meets the needs of Andover students while also being mindful of the impact on the taxpayer’s wallet. The 2023-2024 proposed School Board budget is $6,378,802. This is a very slight increase of $4,815, or 0.09% from the 2022-2023 total adjusted budget of $6,373,987. 

Determining this proposed budget number did not come without challenges. Cost drivers in healthcare expenses, special education, and transportation headlined much of the conversation at the Board level and as the Board worked with the Town’s Budget Committee. This article will help to provide context to these challenges and explain the rationale behind any proposed budgetary changes.

In regard to healthcare, each fall the district receives an annual “not to exceed” percentage from our health care provider. This percentage is used in building the subsequent year’s proposed budget and is primarily based on the previous year’s employee healthcare utilization. 

In the past, we have seen percentages anywhere from 3.7% to 12.2%. This year we were provided another relatively high rate of 11.1%. Why is this year’s “not to exceed” rate so high? Once again, we’re hearing that as pandemic-related restrictions have been lifted, folks are still more actively visiting their doctors. 

We certainly want our employees to be healthy! Throughout the personnel lines in the proposed 2023-2024 budget, you will see this percentage impacting expected healthcare expenses. In total, there is a projected healthcare increase of $52,340 across the budget.

Primarily in the proposed 2100 (Special Education Services) functions and connected line items, there are projected expense increases. These expected increases total $164,860 and are based on student needs and anticipated specialized services. 

Public schools have a moral and legal obligation to provide a public education for all learners. The District takes that responsibility very seriously and endeavors to meet all learner needs in an engaging, responsive, and fiscally responsible manner.

The Transportation section of the budget (2700 function) sees an increase in both regular and special transportation costs. In 2023-2024, the district will be in year four of the five-year contract for student transportation with First Student. This contract increases annually. The increase in special education transportation costs is based on specialized student needs as we know them now.

To mitigate and offset anticipated increases in various expense lines, AE/MS has taken a critical look at staffing levels. With a primary focus on students and a secondary eye on fiscal impact, personnel allocations have been shifted. Through retirements and attrition, AEMS expects to be able to fully meet the needs of all learners with a few less staff positions. 

This personnel shift is most evident in the 1100 (Regular Education) function with a function decrease of $192,139. In preceding years, necessary changes and supports have been put into place, and as a result AE/MS will continue its journey of growth, improvement, and innovation through their extremely skilled and caring staff and administration – albeit slightly smaller in numbers.

In anticipation of a potential boiler replacement (preliminary thoughts are summer of 2023), the Andover School Board is proposing a separate warrant article for up to $150,000 to be drawn from the 2022-2023 unassigned fund balance to be transferred to the Building Maintenance Expendable Trust. 

The 2021-2022 fund balance was atypically large. Preliminary forecasts looking at the 2022-2023 fund balance indicate another potentially large tranche being returned to taxpayers. Based on this, we believe it is prudent to capture a portion of these funds so as not to ask the voters to raise and appropriate additional money. 

Andover voters have approved previous transfers to be set aside in the trust for these needs in the past. These additional funds in the trust will position the district to be ready to move forward with a boiler replacement in the upcoming fiscal year.