By Rick Sobey
BILLERICA -- Billerica Public Schools has sure come a long way from the budget gap of $500,000 two years ago.
During Monday night's public budget hearing, Superintendent of Schools Tim Piwowar announced the district's budget gap is about $60,000 for fiscal 2015's proposed budget of $55.89 million.
Last year, the School Committee was tasked with chopping about $200,000.
"The gap, compared to our overall budget, is a small gap," Piwowar said after the hearing, in which no members of the public spoke about the budget. "There are some places where we can look around the edges, and there are always things happening late in the process, such as late retirements for example, which may wind up giving us some savings.
"There are some other factors that are variable at this stage," he added. "We don't know what's going to happen with some of the special educational placements, which is obviously a very volatile part of the budget. We'll look at all those things to figure out how to break that final gap."
The recommended budget of $55.89 million is $1.7 million more than last year, or a 3 percent increase. Last year, the budget also rose by $1.7 million.
Salaries are again on the rise for next year, this time by more than $2.13 million. The total salary figure will amount to $43.65 million, equal to 78 percent of the total budget.
The biggest driver for salaries, $949,000 in faculty step increases, is largely due to timing, he added.
The "simple demographics" of the School District's workforce saw a high amount of turnover during the late 1990s and early 2000s, Piwowar said, as more and more teachers retired. The teachers hired to replace them are "working their way up through the salary structure," Piwowar said.
The recommended budget of $55.89 million also includes a net reduction of $375,000 in out-of-district tuitions, in addition to a decrease of $42,000 in special education contracted services.
The school committee budget subcommittee began meeting Jan. 22, and will continue to explore ways to meet the bottom-line budget figure, Piwowar said.
Before spring Town Meeting, the School Committee will present a revised budget to the Finance Committee. Town Meeting starts May 6.
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