The Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) is beginning work on next year’s school budget and has adopted a new budgeting process for this second year of operations.
Starting November 15 as The Valley Reporter went to press, members of the six-town, seven-school unified district board were reviewing the new unified budget put together by Superintendent Brigid Nease and Michelle Baker, director of finance and operations. In years past, individual school administrators worked with their school boards and the central office to craft budgets. And this year, building administrators worked with Baker and Nease on the budget.
The HUUSD unanimously approved the new approach at a board meeting in September.
HUUSD board chair Christine Sullivan said that the new budget process is modeled after the process that other unified union school districts are using. Because she hadn’t seen the actual budget proposal by press time, Sullivan couldn’t anticipate the level of detail that would be included in it.
“We understand the concern about transparency and that people may have a bit of anxiety regarding transparency. But it’s November; we have plenty of time to answer questions that people have about the details of the budget,” she said.
In the years before Act 46 and the creation of the HUUSD, all schools in Washington West Supervisory Union worked with their individual school boards to bring a budget to the town or towns that sent students to that particular school. Moretown voted on a Moretown School budget, Warren voted on a Warren School budget, and so on. Harwood’s budget has always been approved by voters from all of supervisory union towns, but the budget was still school-specific.
“Last year, during the first budgeting season under the HUUSD banner, all of the individual school administrators worked with Brigid Nease to combine the traditional budgeting model into a more unified presentation but, as board members, we were still looking at line items that represented existing and potential staff, programming and materials school by school. It focused heavily on incremental improvements and the challenges of that particular moment,” Sullivan said.
This year, all of the administrators in the district have been working with the central office to bring the board a comprehensive plan the board is calling One Budget. That budget will focus on enhancing student programming and sharing resources between schools, Sullivan said. It will also identify challenges the district is facing; goals, strategies and initiatives being pursued; and the financial plan and any risks to long-term financial stability.
“As evidenced by our unanimous vote of approval, we anticipate this process to be an incredibly positive change for our district. A proactive and comprehensive approach to the HUUSD budget that includes a sustainable, multiyear strategy for more robust student experiences will better help us meet our goals of equity, excellence, efficiency, accountability and affordability,” Sullivan added.
Sullivan encouraged the public to provide feedback and suggested people visit the HUUSD website at www.wwsu.org/huusd-board.php to reach out to board members.
“We welcome input about this budgeting process during the public comment section of board meetings, each Wednesday, November 29 through December 20. Be on the lookout for upcoming engagement events and surveys about community priorities,” she said.