[Lakeville Selectman John Powderly] said there is land near Apponequet that could be used for a wind turbine or a solar array.
FREETOWN – The Freetown-Lakeville Regional School District has a revenue-generating problem, not a spending problem, and it could use more ideas on how to raise more revenue, according to district officials.
School authorities stressed that point at a budget discussion forum on Wednesday night, a sparsely-attended meeting at Apponequet Regional High school. School authorities asked the public for outside-the-box ideas to bridge a potential $2 million budget gap heading into fiscal 2014.
Approximately seven suggestions were brought up, ranging from solar and wind projects to endowments, along with possibly expanding the school choice enrollment.
School Committee Chairman David Goodfellow and Interim Superintendent Jessica Huizenga mentioned that the district is ranked 18th out of 20 South Coast communities in minimum net school spending – spending more than only Fall River and Taunton. The district spends only 1.4 percent above minimum net school spending, far below the state average of 16 percent.
Both Goodfellow and Huizenga urged the communities to consider upping it to 6 percent, which would help the district bridge the gap and maintain level services. They said neighboring Middleboro and Berkley spend that percentage above net school spending.
They mentioned that the per capita income of Freetown and Lakeville is within the top third of the state’s per capita income, yet the two communities spend well below the state average for education.
Huizenga also dispelled some misconceptions: She said the district does not spend too much on administration. In fact, she said, it spends 3.33 percent on administration next to the state average of 3.47 percent. She said the district spends most of its money on teachers and support staff. According to a spreadsheet, the district spends 40 percent on classroom teachers and specialists along with 18.61 percent on insurance and retirement programs.
Less than one percent went to professional development last year.
She also said fully regionalizing the district last year has lowered class sizes in the elementary schools, especially helping Lakeville’s Assawompset Elementary School after it had to lay off nearly 22 staff members in 2009. It also helped cut transportation costs.
She said the district’s operating budget, however, still struggles despite the benefits of regionalization.
“We are looking to enlist the help of the communities… and creative out-of-the-box ways we can bring into the schools,” she said.
While the first half of the forum went to discussing problems, the second half was dedicated to generating ideas.
Lakeville Selectman John Powderly proposed several ideas, and warned participants to avoid considering an exclusively “pro-override” mentality.
He said there is land near Apponequet that could be used for a wind turbine or a solar array. He also said that the district should expand its school choice enrollment. This year, it generated $100,000 by welcoming 20 out-of-district students. Powderly said the program should be expanded to net $500,000.
Powderly also urged authorities to consider having teachers and students brainstorm ideas, welcoming emails from the community. He also proposed an endowment program, which would welcome wealthy members of the community to donate money.
School Committee member Derek Gracia proposed more virtual classrooms and full-day, tuition-based pre-kindergarten and kindergarten within the district.
Huizenga said many of the ideas were “wonderful,” but many would take time to develop into revenue generators. She proposed that members of the community think both short-term and long-term.
“(We) still have to build an FY 14 budget and, in parallel, work on long term budgets and sustainability,” she said.
Authorities welcomed meeting participants and others to consider attending more school committee and budget subcommittee meetings to help work on the fiscal 2014 budget.
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