The School Committee and the Town Council held a joint meeting to discuss the $500,000 discrepancy between the proposed $82.2 million proposed budget from Town Manager Andy Nota and the $47 million budget that the School Committee passed in April.
“There are just significant compromises that have to be made, but it doesn’t mean we cannot continue to take steps towards achieving all of the goals that are outlined in all of the town departments,” Nota said at the meeting.
The budget that the School Committee approved in April was the plan set forth by Supt. Brian Ricca. He spoke to the Town Council on Monday about the plan, prefacing his remarks by stating he’s aware that there are many departments in the town and that the schools receive the largest check. However, he said that even the proposed budget wouldn’t be enough.
“Please make no mistake about it,” Supt. Ricca said. “This budget that the School Committee approved does not meet all of our needs.”
Ricca addressed the $500,000 discrepancy directly, saying, “We are working on that proposal” and “could absolutely hold a special meeting of the School Committee in order to meet that need.” However, he said that any reduction in funds associated with the proposed budget could “have serious and long-term effects” on meeting obligations for students and adults in the EG school system.
Town Council member Caryn Corenthal, who mentioned her own teaching experience on Monday night, said she had sent some questions to Supt. Ricca via email about the School Committee’s approved budget but did not find the answers helpful.
“Some of those responses were inadequate, incomplete, and frankly raised more questions for me,” she said Monday night. She began pointing to specific line items and questioning how much money the plan would allocate for them, such as money for substitute teachers, tutoring, and tuition to other schools for certain students whose needs cannot be met within the EG school system.
“I appreciate the questions and also the discussion,” said School Committee Chair Alyson Powell, but noted that she believed the joint meeting was meant for an overall view of the proposed budgets and not line-by-line dissection.
“I appreciate that, but this is my only chance in public to ask these questions,” Corenthal said.
Powell responded, “I guess my point is this has not been your only chance in public to hear this information and ask questions,” after noting workshops and meetings the School Committee held when working on their budgeting process.
One of the biggest discussions was on staffing shortages in EG schools.
“You have limited funds,” Corenthal said. “So, in my mind, staffing should be the number one priority.”
“The staffing is the number one priority,” Ricca said before highlighting the limitations of the proposed budget. He mentioned that EG principals and department heads requested 21 staff positions they would need in their schools. Due to monetary constraints, seven of those positions were seriously discussed, and only two got into the budget for next year.
“There are five positions that I went over with you in my office that we need that we currently cannot afford before Mr. Nota asked us to take more money out of budget,” Ricca said before clarifying, “I will collaborate and make this work.”
The Town Council did not make any decisions on adopting a budget. They must adopt a budget by June 10; their next meeting is May 22.