In a recent presentation to the Westfield Washington Schools board, Brian Tomamichel, WWS assistant superintendent for business and operations, unveiled the WWS’s proposed 2024 budget. The proposed budget is $161,502,746, with an approved tax rate of $1.3 per $100 of assessed property value with the state tax cap being one percent for households, 2 percent for residential property and farmland and three percent for all other properties.
The budget includes several funds such as the education fund, operational referendum, debt service, capital referendum and the operations fund.
The proposed education fund is estimated at $72,642,500, with the primary driving factor being the consistent growth in enrollment. Shamrock Academy alone has only seen two years where it didn’t have an increase of at least 300 students since 2015, with one of those years being COVID. Overall, enrollment has increased by 1,675 students as of 2023.
“If you look across the state, the fact that we grew during COVID is actually the anomaly across the state. Most school districts lost students,” Tomamichel said.
The Operating Referendum Fund, proposed at $12 million, was renewed in 2023 and will continue through 2031.
The debt service fund, proposed at $39,833,246, has had a decreasing rate since 2018, with a projected increase of approximately 0.6 percent in the coming year but remaining flat for the next few years.
“We are able to do that and retain our tax rate as we move forward,” Tomamichel said.
The Capital Referendum Fund is allocated to pay for debt payments associated with various school projects. Tomamichel said that during significant projects, the CRF never exceeded $0.30. The proposed 2024 CRF amount is $6,970,000.
“No dollars can be transferred out of that,” Tomamichel said in regard to the CRF funds. “We collect exactly what we need to make the debt payment every year and move forward.”
The Operations Fund, proposed at $30,057,000, covers expenses related to operating the district, including salaries, technology, maintenance, and bus replacement. This year, $2.3 million has been allocated for bus replacement, part of a five-year project.
Tomamichel mentioned a change in the bus selection process, whereby all buses purchased are obtained at the lowest possible price, allowing for the purchase of one additional bus.
The budget also includes projects within the Capital Projects Plan, ranging from $10,000 to $875,000, including district painting, paving and flooring improvements and a playground project at Carey Ridge Elementary School.
Tomamichel said the district’s rapid growth presents challenges, especially in funding. Budgeting does not account for families moving in after count day, leading to delayed funding for those students.
Tomamichel said the district still provides for the new students but slowly falls behind until they receive funding for the following year.
“We have to do more with less every single year right now,” Tomamichel said. “We cannot keep up with the basic growth that we see.”
Taxes generated from new families are not collected until the following year, when they are incorporated into the city budget. In 2023, the Operations Fund capped at 4 percent, with no growth appeal option, causing uncollections amounting to $831,000.
The WWS board of trustees’ next meeting is Oct. 10, when it will discuss and possibly adopt the proposed budget.