While they stopped shorting of making steep additional cuts into the proposed school budget for fiscal year 2013, members of the Marlborough City Council's Finance Committee used budget hearings to express their dissatisfaction with school leadership.
Superintendent Anthony Pope said $1 million in cuts already made to his proposed budget--the school committee trimmed about $50,000 and Mayor Arthur Vigeant removed nearly $950,000 more--are “hurting us a lot.”
“We have a lot more work to do” to balance the budget, Pope said.
A major reason for the needed increase is rising special education costs, he added. That part of the budget alone grew 4.2 percent, including rising costs of paying for students who are placed out of district due to their special educational needs. “We are not the same district we were 10 years ago,” Pope said, adding that resources are needed to keep the schools on track with its five-year strategic plan, dubbed Believe 2016.
The hearing came against a tense backdrop, with several developments in the schools in recent months having been brought to the attention of the City Council.
Several councilors used their time during the budget review to express anger about recent events within the schools, which have led to an investigation by the mayor and a recent unfair labor practices complaint from the town’s teachers’ union over the firing of former High School Assistant Princnipal Adam Bakr.
The City Council has received a report from Vigeant on allegations that Pope behaved unprofessionally at a high school rally in January staged in support of Bakr, who had been placed on leave at that time. The details of that report have not yet been made public.
Joseph F. Delano, a councilor from Ward 1, said he had yet to be convinced that the School Committee “did its vetting of the budget in a way that makes me comfortable.”
Ward 5 councilor Robert Seymour said he is “extremely concerned” about the state of affairs in the school district and said voters he hears from also express “anger and angst” about recent developments.
Ward 6 councilor Edward Clancy, a retired educator, lashed out at Pope for suggesting that in the past, administrations had balanced budgets “on the heads of children.”
“You are selling all previous administrations short,” said Clancy, who expressed frustration over not being able to parse each line item in the district’s budget. He also argued that not enough is being done for the strongest learners in the district. “You are not being transparent with this budget as far as I am concerned.”
The full council will take up the modified budget--the Finance Committee trimmed several areas during its week-long review--and could restore some cuts that have already been made. They can not, however, add to the original budget amount that was approved by the School Committee.
The original school budget can be viewed online.