SCHOOL COMMITTEE RACE: Bjork Identifies Underfunded & Overfunded Areas In School Budget

WILMINGTON, MA — Wilmington Apple recently asked all six Wilmington School Committee candidates a few questions about the school district’s budget.

This week’s response schedule is as follows: Amy Largenton (Monday), Sabrina Hewitt (Tuesday), Jennifer Bryson (Wednesday), Steve Bjork (Thursday), Kathleen O’Donoghue (Friday), Rhonda Musikar-Rosner (Saturday), and a recap (Sunday).

Below is the response from candidate Steve Bjork. (Editor’s Note: This was submitted prior to Paul Ruggiero being named Interim Superintendent.)

Steve Bjork

QUESTION: The School Committee reviews, approves, and oversees the operation the school district’s budget. (1) Describe any areas of the school budget you feel is currently underfunded? (2) Describe any areas of the school budget you feel is currently overfunded? (3) Do you have any ideas on how the district can save money without negatively impacting student learning?

ANSWER: I would hardly be an effective advocate for the children of Wilmington Public Schools if I didn’t think that all areas of the budget are underfunded and, conversely, that no areas are overfunded.  However, given the funds we have available, Interim Superintendent Joanne Benton and Director of Administration and Finance Paul Ruggeiro have created a budget for FY18 that ensures a quality educational experience in safe learning environments.  Creating such a budget is especially difficult given the number of unfunded mandates and the uncertainty regarding Chapter 70 and Circuit Breaker funds each year.

A few of the district’s priorities for FY18 are maintaining advantageous class sizes, providing strong professional development and updated curricula, ensuring that all legal mandates are funded, as well as funding all salary and contractual obligations.  The district is also committed, and rightfully so, to maintaining full-day kindergarten.  The kindergarten grants are no longer available, so that cost has beome part of the operating budget.

One particular highlight for me in the FY18 proposed budget is the reinstatement of a full-time library media specialist in the Middle School, and a part-time library media specialist in the Boutwell and Wildwood schools.  Last year, under the previous administration, those positions were regrettably eliminated.

I also appreciate that Superintendent Benton listened to parental concern regarding the burdensome list of supplies that parents were asked to provide for Middle School students.  Some parents were spending in excess of $100 per child.  As a result of that input, more funds were allocated in the FY18 proposed budget for supplies at the Middle School.

Likewise, after parental input, money was allocated for the purchase of copyrights of plays for the performing arts.

I wish I had a simple solution for reducing costs without negatively impacting our students.  The vast majority of the budget goes to salaries, but no one can reasonably argue that our teachers and staff are currently overpaid.  One innovative self-supporting program being introduced this summer is the Tech Academy.  Inspired by the existing summer athletic camps, the Tech Academy is a tuition-based program available to incoming 8th and 9th grade students.  The focus, given the district’s one-to-one computer initiative, will be on Chromebooks and will be a great opportunity for students who may not be interested in participating in athletics over the summer.  Any excess revenue will go into the revolving fund that helps subsidize the cost of Chromebooks for students in need.

Developing the budget each year – balancing the needs and wants of the community with the reality of available funds – is a herculean task.  We are very fortunate to have Paul Ruggeiro as our Director of Finance and Administration, and we have benefitted for many years from the talents of Superintendent Joanne Benton.

Superintendent Benton wrote in her budget presentation to the Finance Committee, “…I would note that a school system’s budget should be viewed as an investment in the future and not simply as an annual expense.  After all, it is our responsibility to provide the children of Wilmington with a quality education.”

I agree wholeheartedly with that sentiment, and, if reelected, I will continue to ensure that the children of Wilmington are provided with every possible advantage in their pursuit of a quality education.

Steve Bjork
Stephen Bjork (Photo Credit: by Maureen Brady)

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