Brockton schools craft 2024-25 budget amid projected shortfall

BROCKTON – In less than a month, officials from Brockton Public Schools will enter the Brockton City Council Chamber to present the school district’s budget proposal for next year to the city. As the date gets closer and with several large-scale financial pressures to address, the school committee has been preparing its budget for fiscal year 2025.

The City Council’s 2025 budget hearings, where councilors will put together the city’s budget for the upcoming year, will begin on Monday, June 17. For the first time in recent history, the hearing on June 18 will be fully dedicated to Brockton Public Schools and its behemoth budget.

On April 30, the Brockton School Committee sat around a large, oval-shaped wooden table inside City Hall’s GAR Room to begin building the nine-figure budget for the district.

Brockton Public Schools will have a balance of roughly $250 million in the bank going into next school year, according to estimates from the school district’s business office. That figure is approximately $20 million more than what Brockton schools had in last year’s budget.

An audit looking into the district’s finances completed in February 2024 by state-recommended firm Open Architects projected a deficit in the fiscal year 2025’s budget of about $19 million. The audit also discovered that Brockton schools ended fiscal year 2023 with an $18 million deficit, as well as a $25 million deficit in 2024 that officials expect to be filled by July.

School district officials are working against the possible multi-million-dollar deficit, as rising costs of student transportation and special education services usurp a lot of funding. So, making the school’s budget for next year will be challenging.

“That’s the priority, getting the financial house in order without affecting teaching and learning,” said committee member Jorge Vega. “How do you mitigate that without lessening student outcomes or student experience?”

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As budget discussions continue into the coming weeks, here are the main topics to watch:

More money incoming

Brockton Public Schools is expecting to receive more funding this year from the state and local governments than it has in previous years. Cities and towns across Massachusetts are required by the state to spend a certain amount of money each year on their public school districts, and that amount is called “net school spending.”

Each school district’s net school spending, or the minimum required amount of cash that must go toward public schools, is determined by the district’ student enrollment. The state provides most of that money through its Chapter 70 fund, which in total amounts to over $6 billion statewide for 2025.

In addition, local city and town governments are required to contribute a certain percentage of the overall budget to the schools. Many wealthier cities provide well above that minimum percentage, while Brockton has historically funded between 98% and 101% of its required contribution, according to data from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The Student Opportunity Act, a law passed in 2019, recalculates how much money is allocated to school districts like Brockton that have the most students in need – including students with disabilities, low-income students and English language learners.

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In its Student Opportunity Act proposal, Brockton outlines how it’ll use the additional funding to improve curriculum and instruction across the district and hire more social and emotional learning staff.

Brockton is expecting to receive $256 million from the state and another $58 million from the city, adding up to a total of $315 million. The school district is required to use all that funding during fiscal year 2025.

After accounting for required payments like bills, maintenance and charter school tuition, Brockton Public Schools business officials project a total balance of $227 million leftover for its minimum spending limit.

Transportation debacle

Brockton’s minimum spending requirements do not include payments related to student transportation, school construction, long term debts, school meals or adult learning. These payments are referred to as “non-net school spending.”

According to Brockton Public Schools Interim Business Administrator Trish Boyer, “there is no definition for non-net school spending anywhere to be found,” but Brockton primarily uses this money to fund its transportation department.

In 2021, the district started purchasing buses to create its own in-house bus fleet to transport students internally instead of outsourcing buses from a transportation company. The move was estimated to save Brockton between $2 and $3 million in transportation costs.

According to multiple school officials, the cost of operating and maintaining the fleet became significantly more expensive than first expected. Plus, hundreds of students and their families are facing homelessness and have been displaced outside of Brockton. Brockton Public Schools is required by the state to provide door-to-door bus service for most students, driving up costs even higher.

Now, ahead of fiscal year 2025, the district plans to continue leasing some buses as opposed to purchasing the rest of the fleet.

“We purchased most of them but not all of them. That’s why we have to add new vehicles and we really can’t afford to just outright buy them,” Interim Superintendent James Cobbs said at the April 30 meeting. “It’s to our advantage to lease the vehicles.”

This year, the district will receive about $18 million for its transportation department, an increase of $7 million over last year. Most of this funding comes from the City of Brockton, with additional grant money coming in from the state and other sources.

The $18 million transportation budget combined with the $227 million in required school spending means the school district will have an overall budget balance of roughly $246 million for next school year.

Balancing a deficit

Outside of the funding Brockton Public Schools receives from the government, the school district makes money through various programs it runs throughout the year. That cash goes into a third account called a “revolving fund.”

Several school-related programs add money to and pull money from the district’s revolving account, including school lunches, adult education, school choice tuition, vocational education as well as student athletics and activities.

The school committee voted unanimously at its May 7 meeting to approve spending a total of $225,657 to operate three “very important” summer camps hosted by Brockton’s Community Schools.

According to Boyer, the district’s multimillion-dollar deficit sit in the revolving fund.

“Just keep that in mind when we continue the budget process,” said Brockton Mayor and school committee Chair Robert Sullivan after the summer camp funding was approved. “If we’re going to use 300-grand to support this, which I think we should, we just have to figure out how to balance that.”


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