The Budget Process

The School Budget Process

Summary

The purpose of the school budget development process is to estimate the funds required to operate the school department's educational and support programs for the coming year.  Budget development begins with the formulation and distribution of individual school and department budget preparation materials and the synthesis of these into the annual Superintendent’s Recommended Budget.  The budget incorporates the Weston School Committee’s Budget Guidelines and the District's Long Range Plan.  The Superintendent submits the budget document to the School Committee in early January.  The School Committee's Finance Sub-Committee conducts two public budget hearings to thoroughly review the document.  In late March, the School Committee votes on the budget document.  Once approved, the budget is forwarded to the Town’s Finance Committee and Town Meeting for review and bottom line approval.

 

For more specific details, please read below:

 

School Budget Cycle

Strategic Planning

The School Committee and Administration engage in an annual strategic planning process that begins in June of each year. The “Long Range Plan” is a five-year strategy encompassing every facet of school administration. The annual “Superintendent’s Goals” prioritizes the elements of this strategy to be addressed during the coming year. A review of the district’s Long Range Plan and the Superintendent’s Goals reveals achievements to date, ongoing priorities, and goals yet to be initiated.   The Superintendent works with Administrators, Department Heads, Curriculum Leaders and Faculty to update both documents for the coming year. In October, the School Committee approves these plans that are essential to inform the development of the School budget.

 

Budget Guidelines

The development of the School budget officially begins with the School Committee’s formulation and approval of the Budget Guidelines in November. These guidelines establish the School Committee’s fiscal priorities for the Schools, thus directing the School administration’s thought process as it develops its budget recommendation. 

 

Preliminary Budget

The School Committee’s first consideration of the budget occurs at a regular business meeting in November. All regular business meetings are open to the public and are posted with the agenda on the School website,  through Westword and The Town Crier, and at Town Hall. The Superintendent presents “Budget A,” which is a preliminary exercise that incorporates the latest estimates of costs, such as contractual obligations to employees, utility rates, and governmental increase in cost of living rates, and applies them to the latest enrollment figures, assessment of special education population needs, and the current regular education program. It also includes a very rudimentary projection of additional resources that might be recommended during the upcoming budget cycle, above and beyond a level service budget.  

 

The Town Manager incorporates this budget with the preliminary budgets of the other Town departments into an overall Town budget. The Town Manager also estimates the Town’s revenue from new growth, fees, and State and Federal aid and calculates the maximum tax levy allowable under Proposition 2 1/2. Finally, the Town Manager projects a preliminary financial outlook for the Town.

 

Recommended Budget

In January, the Superintendent presents the “Recommended Budget” to the School Committee at a regular business meeting. The Recommended Budget is based on input by Department Heads, Curriculum Leaders, Principals and Administrators, and Faculty. It incorporates the School Committee’s Budget Guidelines, collective bargaining requirements, Federal mandates such as No Child Left Behind, State mandates such as the provision for Special Education, and elements of the District’s Long Range Plan and the Superintendent’s Goals. It also updates planning information such as the latest estimates in enrollment, utility and special education costs. 

 

At this point in the process, the Superintendent has already made compromises, assessed needs and priorities, determined operational efficiencies, and leveraged known revenue sources. Nevertheless, the Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Operations and the School Committee review the Recommended Budget line by line over a series of public meetings separate from the regular meetings of the School Committee. At these meetings the School Committee poses questions to the Administration regarding efficiency of operations, priorities in instruction and administration, and revenue and expense options. Additional compromises may be made to balance the needs of the Schools with the need to control budget growth. Similar reviews occur in municipal departments. The Finance Committee’s Liaisons to the School Committee and to the various municipal departments closely monitor the discussions to understand the issues and form the basis of their assessments of the final budget recommendations.

 

The Superintendent’s Recommended Budget is provided to the Town Manager to incorporate in the “Town Manager’s Proposed Budget,” which is then presented to the Board of Selectmen along with the estimate of anticipated revenues for the coming fiscal year. If anticipated revenues are less than the Town Manager’s Proposed Budget, the Town has a “budget shortfall.” When this occurs, the Board of Selectmen, School Committee and Finance Committee may reduce or reject budget requests; or the Selectmen may recommend a Proposition 2 ½ override or debt exclusion; or some combination of these options may be recommended. A full explanation of the components of the tax bill is provided below.

 

Committee Approval

During the month of February, the School Committee deliberates on the Superintendent’s Recommended Budget in the context of the Town’s fiscal constraints and develops a final budget that is approved in mid-March. 

 

The budget deliberation process reveals both the cost of the basic daily operations of the facilities and educational services as well as the cost of maintaining excellence in teaching and learning. Public education is a community responsibility that benefits the community. Our economy depends on the education of our youth to contribute civically and economically to our communities. However, every year more is expected of teachers and school systems. There is more to know than ever. For example, we aspire to educate every child, not just the average child. We educate to compete effectively in the world, not just in our local economy. 

 

At the same time it has been increasingly difficult to ensure the financial means to achieve these increasing expectations and mandates.  All Town departments collaborate to provide taxpayers with the level of service they have come to expect, while at the same time responsibly managing the tax burden. But as the single largest cost center in Weston, the Schools have a special responsibility to consider its growing spending needs within the context of the financial constraints of the entire community.

 

Town Meeting Vote

Details of the “School Committee Approved Budget” are disseminated to the public in April in a booklet entitled “School Budget.” The School Budget is also incorporated into a booklet distributed by the Selectmen known as the “Budget Book.”  The Budget Book provides the Report of the Finance Committee, the Recommended Operating Budget, Report of the Board of Selectmen and the Warrant for the Annual Town Meeting. 

 

A Town Budget Hearing is held on the first Monday in May to present the Recommended Operating Budget, to hear the perspective of the Finance Committee, and to answer questions from the public. Override and debt exclusion recommendations must first gain a majority vote at the ballot box on the Saturday before Town Meeting. Then the budget, override recommendation, and other fiscal matters are debated and voted on at the Annual Town Meeting on the second Monday of May.

 

 

Town Government 101

1.    Introduction: Weston Population and Voters

 

Our town government is run by a small proportion of the town’s residents. Thus, those who get involved can have a strong voice and a major impact in how the town is run and what becomes of the town.

 

Over the past ten years, the share of Weston’s school aged and elderly populations have increased. While overall population levels have been increasing, they are now about the same as those in the mid-1970s baby boom.

 

                                                1994                2005                vs 1994

Total Weston population         10,513             11,089             +5.5%

Age: 17 and under                 2,437               3,071               +26.0%

            18-34                           1,834               1,449               -21%

            35-59                           3,973               4,106               +3.3%

            60+                              2,228               2,465               +10.2%

 

Total Dwellings                                               3,398

Active registered voters                                  7,162

School membership                 1,769               2,319               +24.2%

 

Source: Town of Weston Financial Summit Report, October 2005

 

2.    Structure of Town Government: Who Runs the Town?

 

Local politics in Weston are nonpartisan. Voters run the town by:

·    Electing town officials

·    Voting on the annual town budget and warrant issues in Town Elections and Town Meeting, and

·    Serving on Town committees.

 

Who is elected and what do they do?

 

Board of Selectmen: Three members are elected to serve on the board as the chief executives of the Town. They hire the Town Manager, who serves as the chief operating officer of the Town. The board presents an annual town budget for voters to approve, appoints members to several town committees, including the Zoning Board of Appeals; Council on Aging; Historical Commission; Housing Needs Committee; Conservation Commission.

 

Town Moderator: Elected to preside over Town Meeting and appoint members to several Town committees including Finance Committee, Elderly Housing Committee, Community Preservation Committee.

 

Town Clerk: Elected to keep notes at Town Meeting and maintain Town records; record election results; issue licenses and certificates; perform marriages.

 

School Committee: Five members elected to hire school superintendent, formulate school policies and develop and approve the annual school budget.

 

Board of Assessors: Elected to assess all real estate and property at full market value. The total property assessment and individual assessments determines the amount each property owner is to be allocated the tax burden, as determined by the annual budget voted on at the annual Town Meeting.

 

Recreation Commission: Elected to hire the Recreation Director; to set the policies to provide year-round recreational activities for town residents; and determine the recreational facilities needed to meet this objective.

 

Planning Board: Elected to supervise plans for subdivision of land; conduct public hearings on proposed zoning bylaw changes; prepare the official town map and make recommendations concerning town development.

 

Library Trustees: Elected to determine library policy, appoint personnel, request funds through Town appropriations and supervise their expenditure.

 

Board of Health: Elected to promote and protect public health through education and enforcement of environmental, public, medical and mental health laws and regulations; license day care centers and day camps; oversee control of disease dangerous to public health; enforce the State Environmental code for wells, septic systems, lead and asbestos removal and ground water protection.

 

 

Who is appointed and what do they do?

 

Finance Committee: Appointed by the Moderator, the “FinCom” is advisory only and its members work with the Town Manager, Town departments and the School Committee in preparation of the Town Budget. The FinCom advises the Board of Selectmen and the voters on financial matters facing the Town.

 

Community Preservation Committee: Appointed by the Board of Selectmen, the CPC manages and proposes appropriations from the Community Preservation Fund.

 

Elderly Housing Committee: Appointed by the Moderator, the Elderly Housing Committee oversees the operations and management of the Brooks School Apartments.

 

Zoning Board of Appeals: Appointed by the Board of Selectmen, the ZBA hears and rules on applications for variances and special permits under the Town Zoning bylaws.

                                  

Conservation Commission: Appointed by the Board of Selectmen, the “ConCom” protects and manages Weston’s natural resources; administers the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act.

 

Council on Aging: Appointed by the Board of Selectmen, the COA coordinates and promotes services for senior citizens in Weston.

                            

Housing Needs Committee: Appointed by the Board of Selectmen, the Housing Needs Committee assesses the need for affordable housing in Weston and advises on how such housing might be provided and financed.

 

Historical Commission: Appointed by the Board of Selectmen, the Historical Commission preserves Weston’s history and educates the public about its value.

 

 

3.    Overview of Town Finances

 

Budget Process

The Town’s fiscal year runs from July 1 through June 30. The Town votes on the budget at the Annual Town Meeting, which is typically held the second Monday in May. Only the Board of Selectmen is authorized to propose the budget to the Town Meeting, and the voters vote on one consolidated budget.

 

Town financial management involves three activities:

·        Decisions on spending that include the operating budget plus special capital outlays;

·        Assessment process that determines each taxpayer’s share in paying for expenditures;

·        Collection and management of funds from taxes and other sources, such as auto excise taxes and fees.

 

Budget Timeline

July 1                           Fiscal Year begins

October                       Financial Summit meeting of the  Board of Selectmen, School Committee and Finance Committee

November                   Municipal and School departments prepare and submit preliminary budgets

December                    Town Manager presents recommendation to Selectmen

January                        Superintendent presents recommendation to School Committee.

February                      Selectmen, School Committee and Finance Committee review proposals in open public sessions.

March                          Selectmen and School Committee vote on respective budgets. 

                                     Selectmen and Finance Committee finalize Town Budget.

April                            Budget Book and Report of the Finance Committee are sent to voters.

May                             Town Budget hearing is held first Monday in May. 

                                   Town Elections are held the following Saturday and the

                                    Annual Town Meeting is held the second Monday.

June 30                        Fiscal Year ends.

 

Assessment Timeline

The State requires a re-assessment every three years to “full and fair cash value” (93-107%) of property valuation. Assessors across the state find that it is better practice to do interim adjustments annually. 

 

October                          Preliminary assessments are mailed with a 3-4 week comment period for homeowners.

November                      Final assessment values are established. The State must approve accuracy and equitability.

November-December     Selectmen set tax rate.

February 1                      Abatement applications are due and taxes must be paid pending abatement.

 

Tax bills are due quarterly on the first of August, November, February and May. The first two tax bills use the tax rate from the prior fiscal year. The second two tax bills show the actual tax owed based on the new tax rate and show the remaining taxes owed over the subsequent two payments. The Community Preservation Act (CPA) charge of 3% (after $100,000 assessment allowance) is charged quarterly on top of the tax payment.

 

Tax Rate

The current tax rate is posted on the Town of Weston website. In Fiscal 2005, the rate was $9.46 per $1,000 of real estate valuation. Thus, a home assessed at $1,000,000 would have a tax bill of $9,460 in Fiscal 2005. The tax rate is a function of the total revenues to be raised by real estate taxes and is just one component of the total tax burden.

 

 This is the formula for determining Weston's maximum tax levy:

 

                        Weston’s Maximum Tax Levy =Levy Limit + Exclusions + CPA fund    

 

Levy Limit

  

§        A levy ceiling is the maximum levy limit. It is set by determining 2.5 % of the full and fair cash value of taxable real and personal property, as determined by the Town’s assessors. This changes as properties are added or removed from the tax roll and as market values change.

§        The levy limit is the maximum levy for a particular year. It is calculated by increasing the previous year’s limit by 2.5% and adding certified new growth* and overrides. An override is when a majority votes to exceed the levy limit by a stated amount. (Underrides reduce the levy limit.) The new limit cannot exceed the levy ceiling.

 

             The Levy Limit = Prior Year Levy Limit + 2.5% + (voter approved override) + New Growth*

 

This calculation becomes the base for calculating the levy limit for the next year. The town’s actual levy can be any amount up to the limit. If in one year, the levy is below the limit, the levy increase in the following year could exceed 2.5%. The difference between the levy and the levy limit is called the Excess Levy Capacity.

 

Exclusions

Taxpayers may vote to fund debt or projects and choose to exclude these payments from the calculation of the levy limit. Unlike overrides, these Debt Exclusions or Capital Outlay Expenditure Exclusions taxes are temporary, lasting the life of the debt or the duration of the capital project. Exclusions require a two-thirds majority vote and may increase the levy above the levy ceiling.

 

Community Preservation Act

In 2002, Weston voters approved the CPA, which is calculated as 3% of the Tax Levy plus debt exclusions. Thus:

 

            Funds for the Community Preservation Act =(New Levy Limit + Debt Exclusions) x 3%

 

* New growth includes the additional property tax from new construction and additions to properties, exempt real property returned to the tax roll, and new personal property. Although new growth is incorporated into the levy limit calculation, Weston has historically not included new growth in revenue calculations, which results in a more conservative outcome. If estimated expenditures appear to exceed these calculated revenues, it could lead to a request for an override. However, omitting new growth also creates an unused surplus that is applied to reduce the following year’s revenue requirements.

 

 

4.     Town Elections and Town Meeting

 

Annual Town Meeting, which serves as the Town’s legislative body, is held on the second Monday in May. Additional dates for Town Meeting are scheduled if more time is needed to consider and vote on town warrants. Town elections are held on the Saturday prior to Town Meeting. Elections cover the election of town officers and budget overrides or other budget issues such as debt exclusions.

 

Town Meeting refers not only to the actual event, but also to the decision-making body. In Weston, we have Open Town Meeting, as compared to Representative Town Meeting. Every registered voter in Town may attend and vote on the budget and warrant articles. Also, Town Meeting votes are “open”—by voice, hand or body count. Typically fewer than 1,000 residents attend Town Meeting. Since there are almost 7,000 registered voters in Weston, this means that 6,000 voters are abdicating the decision-making authority to those who attend.

 

The Town Moderator runs Town Meeting in accordance with Roberts’ Rules of Order, announces the election results, and facilitates the conduct of the meeting. Proponents of each warrant article identify themselves to the Moderator before the meeting or from the floor of Town Meeting and the Moderator calls upon them to speak. There is a brief guide to Town Meeting procedures at the back of the Town Budget book.

 

Candidates for elected office may be identified in two ways. First, the Town Caucus is held on the first Monday in March to nominate and elect candidates. Alternatively, a candidate may file nominating papers with fifty signatures of Weston voters with the Town Clerk before the deadline in mid-March.

 

5.    How to Participate in the Budget and Electoral Process

 

·        Attend committee meetings and meet officials.

·        Speak with town officials and employees to become educated in the issues of interest.

·        Read newspaper articles or view websites.

·        Write letters or e-mails to officials, committee members, or employees to express opinions.

·        Attend Budget Hearing, Candidates Nights, and other informational sessions held by committees or the League of          Women Voters.

·        Vote in the Town Caucus, Elections and Town Meeting.

·        Run for elected office or express interest in volunteering for appointed office or other committees.

·        Join the League of Women Voters

Proposition 2 ½ was instituted in 1980 to limit the reliance on the property tax and give the voters a greater say in approving property tax increases. There are two components to the law. 
Services in town are financed mostly by property taxes, but also by fees and distributions of state aid. During each budget cycle, revenue and expenditure estimates are developed to form the annual budget.  

 

 
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