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New England News

Budget Promises Computer For Every Student

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Springfield Public Schools
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A new budget has been adopted for the second-largest public school system in Massachusetts that officials say puts “students first.”   The Springfield Public Schools will spend more money next year on technology in the classrooms, early childhood education, and launch a program to put a computer in the hands of every student.

The Springfield School Committee, at a special meeting, unanimously approved a $394 million budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1st.  Spending will increase by $15.5 million, or 4.1 percent, according to a summary provided by the school department.

Superintendent of Schools Dan Warwick, in a statement, said the budget “puts students first” and “builds on student-centered improvements that have been achieved over the past several years.”

The administration was faced with closing a budget gap of almost $8 million that resulted from rising expenses, the loss of $10 million in grants, and an 8 percent increase in students transferring to charter schools or out of the district.  Cuts were made that did not impact the classroom, according to the school department’s chief communications officer Azell Cavaan.

" We looked at Central Office, we looked at streamlining our services," she explained. " The superintendent is really focused on keeping cuts away from the classroom and we were able to do that this year."

The budget includes money to begin a program this fall that will eventually put a computer in the hands of every student. 

" It is a long- term technology plan. We are talking close to 60 schools, 26,000 students, one-to- one computers, it is a huge endeavor," said Cavaan.

There is also funding for new science text and writing software for the elementary schools, expanding early education literacy efforts, and supporting a teacher home visit project.

While the city’s school committee has wrapped up its budget work, the Springfield City Council tonight begins its review of Mayor Domenic Sarno’s proposed spending plan on the municipal side.

City Council President Mike Fenton has scheduled three public hearings where city department and agency heads will be questioned by councilors about the budget.  The council is scheduled to vote on the budget at a meeting scheduled for May 24th.

Fenton praised Sarno for filing his spending plan on April 28th, the earliest budget release in the city’s history.

" I hope to see it continue in future years, because in the past we have found it difficult when the budget comes to us late in the process, so we are grateful for that," said Fenton.

Sarno again made public safety a priority in his budget, funding a police academy of 60 new officers and hiring a dozen firefighters. The parks department would get additional money for extended after-school recreation programs. The city would contribute $250,000 to the School Department to help expand pre-kindergarten education.

" You have to make strategic investments and we have done that in public safety, education, infrastructure, quality of life," said Sarno.

Budget-writers started out with an estimated deficit of $22.5 million, but were able to close the gap without touching the city’s cash reserves.

" I'm very proud of that," said Sarno. " It is almost unheard of that you are able to balance a budget without touching stabilization funds. We have almost $40 million there."

The city is counting on $4.5 million in additional revenue from building permit fees as construction begins in earnest on the MGM casino, and a subway car factory.   The city will receive $5.5 million from MGM  in payments owed under the terms of the host community casino development agreement.

Unrestricted local aid from the state is expected to increase and the city expects to collect $7.5 million more in property taxes as the real estate market continues to slowly improve.

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