Public can weigh in on proposed $232M FY'25 city school budget

Feb. 11—A public hearing will be held Monday night at City Hall on the proposed Fiscal Year 2025 budget for the Manchester School District.

The hearing on the tax-cap compliant $232 million budget is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m., followed by a meeting of the full Board of School Committee.

Those wishing to speak at the hearing will be given up to three minutes to comment on the school district budget of $232,227,530, as well as the FY'25 School Food and Nutrition Budget of $6,252,176 and the FY'25 Capital Improvements Projects (CIP) Priority Listing of $5,650,000.

The proposed school budget represents a 5.63% increase over the FY'24 appropriation of $226,982,607, thanks in part to increased property values in Manchester, leading to a pool of approximately $6.7 million in revenue.

In presenting her proposed budget, Superintendent of Schools Jennifer Gillis said she is looking to hold on to 42.3 of the 77.5 full-time equivalent positions funded through Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds. Gillis said these positions work directly with students.

"We understood from the beginning we had competing demands, such as our drive toward continued aligned educational programming, while striving to close the learning gap we saw exacerbated during the pandemic," Gillis said. "We have worked to bring class sizes to better line up with the reduced class size policy. We are bringing updates to decades-old platforms and systems to enhance efficiencies and reduce redundant outdated practices.

"We are partnering with local industry to broaden and strengthen our career pathway work because we know healthy thriving schools equate to healthy, thriving communities," she added.

The proposed budget includes funds to cover five new school union contracts. The agreements raise the pay of the district's teachers, paraprofessionals, principals, assistant principals, administrators, directors and coordinators.

The agreements are set to take effect on July 1 and run from fiscal years 2025 to 2027. They cover the Manchester Education Association, the Association of Manchester Principals, the Manchester Education Support Personnel Association, paraprofessionals and district directors and coordinators. The contracts will cost the school district an additional $23.4 million over the current agreement.

All five agreements include three consecutive years of increases.

Manchester Education Association: Teachers will get a 9% salary increase in the first year, a 4.9% increase in the second year and a 5% increase in the third year, with a total financial impact of $19.7 million.

The Association of Manchester Principals: Principals and assistant principals will receive a 7.6% salary increase in the first year, a 5.5% increase in the second year and a 5.4% increase in the third year, with a financial impact of $1.48 million.

The Manchester Education Support Personnel Association: Administrative staff will see a 7.5% salary increase in the first year, a 5% increase in the second year and a 4.5% increase in the third year with a financial impact of $730,000.

AFSCME Local 3912: Paraprofessionals will get a 9.7% salary increase in the first year, followed by a 3% increase in the second year and a 3% increase in the third year with a financial impact of $1.39 million.

Directors and coordinators: Directors and coordinators will receive a salary increase of 6% in the first year followed by a 4% increase in the second year and a 4% increase in the third year with a financial impact of $115,000.

Former mayor and current Ward 9 school board member Bob Baines, chairman of the Finance and Facilities Committee, praised Gillis and her staff last week for their work on the budget, saying he remembers a time when hundreds of district employees were laid off.

"Where we are now, it's not your grandmother's school district, or my grandmother's school district," Baines said. "The progress that I've experienced since I've rejoined this board after being on the outskirts for the past 18 years, it's absolutely phenomenal what is going on."

Baines thanked members of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen for their support in recent years, saying without it the district wouldn't be in position to address "these very significant needs and challenges in our schools."

Baines said school board members must now focus on convincing "messaging" regarding Gillis's budget proposal.

"Our messaging has to be very precise, outlining the progress that we've made, but we also need to be on guard," Baines said. "We have a challenge ahead of us, that tax cap number is very high. We have to be prepared to defend it and demonstrate in a very articulate and precise manner the impact that will occur if various cuts are made.

"We need to fight for what's right."

Gillis reminded school board members that "this is our budget."

"This work is not done in isolation but as part of the whole," Gilis said. "There are ongoing investments in educational programming, staffing and facilities, not in competition with each other, but in a manner of collaboration and support.

"Our budget, our work, every day has to be — and is — about our students."