Newton’s public schools could cut as many as 74 positions next year amid declining enrollment and a projected $5.2 million budget shortfall, the superintendent warned staff members Tuesday.
Superintendent David Fleishman, who offered details about the projected cuts in an e-mail to school staff, said the school system faces “extraordinary challenges” in its fiscal 2023 budget and officials expect to cut between 50 and 60 staff positions to help close the gap.
Another 12 to 14 positions will be cut due to a decline in enrollment, he said.
Mayor Ruthanne Fuller has said enrollment in the city’s public schools system is 11,700 students -- down about 1,000 students from the total five years ago.
Fleishman commiserated with staff in his message Tuesday.
“I am fully cognizant of the fact that this information is going to cause significant concern and it is particularly difficult to absorb in the midst of what is already a difficult year,” Fleishman said in the e-mail. “I am truly sorry to share this news and will do everything possible to address this most daunting challenge in a transparent, thoughtful and compassionate manner.”
The projected cuts in school staff come about a month after Fuller announced an $8.9 million budget increase for the schools next year, bringing the total to $262 million.
Fuller, in a statement to the Globe Wednesday, called the situation “a challenging period.”
“Costs are up and needs have increased. As we prepare the FY2023 budget, our highest priority continues to be our children and the Newton Public Schools,” Fuller said.
The projected cuts, which Fleishman said were presented to the city’s School Committee Monday, are being driven by factors such as a more expensive transportation contract and increased costs of health insurance and contractual obligations.
The schools also face greater costs of starting and expanding special education programs, as well as services for students with disabilities, he said in the message to staff.
The city’s school system has a workforce of about 2,500 employees. The Newton Teachers Association, which is the city’s largest union, represents about 2,000 teachers, aids, and other workers.
The proposed budget will be presented to the School Committee, which includes Fuller as a member, during its March 23 meeting, Fleishman said.
Tamika Olszewski, the School Committee’s chairwoman, said her committee is waiting for the full budget presentation.
They will scrutinize any reductions “to ensure that our district is still able to provide the excellent academic experience for which Newton is known, while continuing to meet the social and emotional needs of our students,” Olszewski said in an e-mail.
Michael Zilles, the union’s president, said the NTA is working determine how there could be such a large deficit in next year’s budget.
“It’s extremely difficult to understand how Newton could find itself in this position,” Zilles said. “We have more money coming from the federal government, from the state government, than the city of Newton ever had in the past.”
Newton Public Schools was allocated a total of $3.2 million under the American Rescue Plan Act, while the city was allocated another $63 million.
The city has yet to allocate about $38 million from its share of federal aid money, according to city data.
Olszewski and Zilles each told the Globe Wednesday that Newton’s city government should help address the gap in next year’s schools budget.
“I fully expect the City to continue to be a trusted partner and provide the resources needed by NPS to meet budget and to recoup much of the one-time pandemic related expenses using ARPA funds,” Olszewski said in an e-mail.
Zilles said in a phone interview the proposed cuts are “unconscionable.”
“The superintendent’s office, the mayor’s office, and the School Committee should be doing everything they can to prevent this from happening, Zilles said. “Everything is on the table.”
Zilles said the NTA Parent/Educator Collaborative will be hosting a community meeting on March 17 via Zoom to discuss the proposed budget cuts.
The city has already allocated millions from its share of pandemic relief funds to the schools, according to Fuller’s statement Wednesday, and will continue to help.
The city provided $3 million to the Newton Public Schools for stipends to school staff who worked through the pandemic. Another $2 million has been set aside for school projects, including a feasibility study for the Countryside School.
About $4.6 million was used to balance this year’s city and school budgets.
Rescue Plan funds were also used to help fund $2 million in additional school services.
Fuller said the city directed $6 million from its $7.8 million share of federal CARES Act funding for new school building ventilation systems and COVID-19 testing.
Fuller on Wednesday said the schools will receive a 3.5 percent budget increase, while the other city departments each got 3 percent.
“We continue to work closely with NPS leadership and the School Committee to find additional ways that ARPA or other funding may be appropriate, particularly for pandemic related needs of our students and educators,” Fuller said.
In his message to staff Tuesday, Fleishman said the current year’s school budget is very tight this year, as officials worked to keep class sizes “favorable” while maintaining academic and social emotional support for students.
Fleishman said officials considered cutting the current year’s budget, but instead, “we decided to delay and instead manage our budget as tightly as possible given the anticipated needs of our students.”
Over the course of this year, he said, the schools are facing even greater financial challenges, including continuing costs related to COVID-19 and increasing costs for substitute teachers.
There has also been greater than expected use of health plans by employees and their families, according to Fleishman, as well as a decline in revenue from renting school facilities.
In the proposed budget for next year, Fleishman said the gap consists of roughly $4 million in operating costs, as well as $1.2 million for special education program development.
Since most of the schools’ budget is related to personnel, Fleishman said, “we are forced to look at personnel reductions to balance the budget.”
Fleishman said officials are doing everything possible to limit the impact on the student and adult experiences in Newton’s public schools.
“We have and will continue to explore all non-personnel options to reduce our costs,” Fleishman said. “Each of you are here because you contribute to the educational and operational aspects of our district and making reductions at all is really, really tough.”
John Hilliard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.