School Committee Contemplates Deep Budget Cuts

by | May 29, 2018

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

With the town’s June 10 deadline to pass a budget fast approaching, the School Committee set about Tuesday figuring out just what Town Manager Gayle Corrigan’s proposed $149,000 in additional funding to the schools would provide.

The challenge is that the School Committee had asked for an increase of $1.35 million, so they were faced with bridging a nearly $1.2 million gap.

(On paper, Corrigan’s budget would give the school district $650,000, but $500,000 of that is money for salaries the town took on last year but decided to give back to the district this year. So the actual additional revenue for the schools under Corrigan’s proposed budget is $149,000.)

At the meeting Tuesday, Supt. Victor Mercurio presented a list equaling $948,401 in budget cuts, still more than $200,000 shy of the amount needed to bridge the budget gap. Among the proposed cuts:

  • Library Media Specialist at the high school – the school has been without a LMS this year; the School Committee had restored funding for that position in its FY 2019 budget. Cost savings: $112,373
  • A school nurse/teacher – right now, the district has a nurse in all six school; this cut would bring the number to five. Cost savings: $112,373
  • Director of teaching and learning (i.e. curriculum director) – this has been a long-sought addition to the administrative staff. Cost savings: $95,086
  • Elementary school reading program – another long-sought budget item. Cost savings: $80,000

Other proposed cuts:

  • A reduction in the money set aside for capital expenditures. Cost savings: $200,000
  • Cole computer lab refresh. Cost savings: $150,000
  • Professional development – training for teachers and aides. Cost savings: $50,000
  • A part-time music teacher for the high school. Cost savings: $49,735

Here is the complete list: School Committee Proposed 2019 Budget Cuts.

Committee Chair Carolyn Mark said she thought the district would need to present cuts all the way up to $1.2 million. Several on the committee said the district’s available fund balance, at $550,000, had gotten too low to rely on yet again for operating expenses. What’s left, according to Mercurio, could be deeper cuts in some items on his list (for instance, capital expenses and professional development both have additional funds that could be tapped). And, the district could also look at the athletics budget, which totals around $600,000.

“If we were to effectuate these cuts, you can’t foresee a scenario where you wouldn’t see structural damage,” Committeeman Matt Plain said, echoing an earlier comment by Supt. Mercurio. Plain said the Basic Education Plan (the BEP) not only sets out what’s needed in any particular year but also calls for continuous improvement.

“In fact,” he said, “it says ‘continuous improvement’ 28 times in the BEP. So if we’re entertaining a plan that will result … in structural damage to our district, right out of the gate we’re violating the BEP.”

Committeewoman Lori McEwen urged the committee to consider those students at greatest need.

“Whatever we do must be right for the neediest among us. … 26 percent of economically disadvantaged students met and/or exceeded the [PARKK] threshold whereas 65 percent of all other students did,” McEwen said. She noted that a director of teaching and learning would help teachers differentiate their instruction for the district’s neediest students.

She added, “Without a solid reading program, we are disadvantaging students, without a library media specialist, we’re disadvantaging students.”

The School Committee meets with the Town Council on Monday, June 4, in a second public hearing on the budget. Members asked Supt. Mercurio to make a presentation for that meeting that would illustrate for the Town Council just what the district would face with a 4 percent appropriation, a 3 percent, a 2 percent, a 1 percent, and the actual 0.4 percent in the town manager’s proposed budget. The Town Council also meets Wednesday, May 30, and the budget is on its agenda

Also Tuesday night, the School Committee approved hiring the law firm Henneous, Carroll, Lombardo LLC, to conduct a programmatic audit of the district, to determine just what the district needs to operate within the confines of state law. This is in anticipation of continued reduced funding by the Town Council. They put an initial cap at $25,000 but district lawyer Matt Oliverio said he anticipated the audit would cost more than that.

In the audit, the team would first get into the schools while classes are still being held and gather data. Then they would have to compare that data to the BEP. Oliverio said he thought the auditors could get to work next week and could finish before the start of school in September.

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