Nolin proposes 5.1 percent increase for FY2025 schools budget

Superintendent Anna Nolin presented her first budget proposal to the Newton School Committee Wednesday night, calling for an increase of more than 5 percent over this year to help restore some previously cut programs and add support for teachers and students.

The theme of Nolin’s Fiscal Year 2025 is more—more programming, more staff, more opportunities for professional development, more mental and emotional support for students—as emphasized by the title of her presentation, “From Surviving to Thriving.”

“It feels like we peeped under the covers a little bit already while we were doing the negotiations process, so there aren’t a lot of surprises in here that haven’t been discussed in other public meetings,” Nolin said. “But I just want to make sure we’re where we should be heading for Fiscal Year 2025, or my recommendation to you for where you should head.”

Nolin’s budget proposal calls for $286,347,007 in total available funds. That’s effectively a 5.1 percent increase over Fiscal Year 2024. That increase is higher than the typical increases city departments see because it includes both an increase in the operating budget and an increase in one-time funds.

“Newton is not alone in a need for increased allocations in budgets,” Nolin said.

Brookline, for example, passed a $3 million override to restore years of school budget cuts. And Needham is set to increase its school budget by 5.82 percent, while Dedham’s school budget increase is more than 8 percent.

‘Level Services-Plus’

Nolin referred to her budget as “Level Services-Plus” since it stabilizes some areas and builds on others.

She presented a graphic showing the different models of budgets—from “Less than Level,” which cuts services, to “Thrive budget” which restores past cuts and adds new programming throughout the district—and Nolin said she picked the “Level Services-Plus” option in the middle of that range so the district can see how things go with some restoration of staff and programs and figure out what needs enhancement before going into full “Thrive Budget” mode for a future fiscal year.

The “Thrive Budget” model for FY2025 would mean a 9 percent increase in the school budget.

“It would allow people to thrive and do the kinds of dreamy programs that they want to do, but we’re not in a position to do that at this time,” Nolin said.

This chart shows five different models for budgeting and what they would mean for Newton’s school budget, ranging from the least expensive to the most expensive. Nolin is proposing the middle one for Newton for FY2025 while the district works toward the higher-funded models in years to come. Newton Public Schools

Goals and caution

Nolin’s FY2025 budget goals prioritize several things:

  • Nolin’s entry plan—a comprehensive set of goals for the schools that every new superintendent produces—that addresses things like excessive absenteeism, staff contracts, racial achievement gaps and more.
  • Mitigating the district’s large class sizes with more staff and programming that offers a wide range of classes in the fine arts, sciences, extra-curricular clubs and more.
  • Professional development funding, which has been shrinking for years.
  • Increased mental health support for students.
  • Operational infrastructure funding for technology improvements and other needed upgrades.

Things complicating the FY2025 budget include rising costs for everything from tuition to health insurance, increasingly complex student needs and the loss of one-time COVID-19-related funds.

Health care costs, for example, are set to increase by $1.6 million, and out-of-district tuition by $1.2 million.

The budget also restores more than half a million dollars in maintenance funds that had previously been cut.

Nolin’s FY2025 budget does rely on COVID-19 money, but Mayor Ruthanne Fuller has created an Educational Stabilization Fund, which sets aside $22 million for the schools over five years, to offset the drying up of those one-time funds.

Mental health needs

Mental health was a dominant topic during the teacher strike, as teachers report students showing signs of stress and emotional trouble, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some of that Educational Stabilization Fund money will go toward adding social workers for all elementary schools.

“It is not possible for students to wait until Thursday who have the need to see the social worker,” Nolin said, echoing a frustration shared by teachers and therapists throughout the contract dispute. “And in some of our schools, the part-time status of some of these practitioners meant that students could not get that on-demand proactive therapeutic service on a regular basis.”

VIDEO: Newton parent and Underwood elementary school psychologist Elizabeth Hamblin talks about mental health concerns at Newton’s schools during a Newton Teachers Assocation press conference in January.

Making room

With the budget proposal, the Educational Stabilization Fund would also restore STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) classes at the two high schools that were cut in recent years, alleviating the crowding seen in current STEM classes.

“This will not solve every class size problem at the high schools, but it is a very strong beginning of addressing those class sizes, particularly in STEM.

The budget adds elective courses, which can also mean smaller class sizes in other existing electives.

And the budget allows the district to expand programming and admission for students with disabilities at the city’s elementary schools and preschools.

“This helps us by not demanding outside placement for these young people,” Nolin said.

Next steps

The School Committee plans to hold a public hearing on the budget on April 1 and vote on it on April 9.

Nolin will present her budget proposal to the City Council on April 24.

“I could tell that there was some uncertainty or trepidation around the ‘tale of five budgets’ model, but I have to say I loved it,” School Committee member Tamika Olszewski said. “I think it’s exactly what we needed to see what we can do with the funds we have today and what we can do with the funds that we are hoping to attain tomorrow.”

You can watch Nolin’s presentation on the many, many details of her FY2025 budget proposal in its entirety on NewTV’s YouTube channel.