Tough School Budget Choices Loom
Increasingly frugal budget options were given to the School Committee with warnings of possible repercussions from school officials.
Three phases of increasingly frugal school budget proposals were presented at the School Committee Meeting Tuesday.
“We are not talking any pink slips,” said Mayor Arthur Vigeant as he addressed the committee regarding the most frugal of the budgets presented. “We are saying 2.7 percent ... that is keeping everyone in the system employed.”
Three budget options, representing a 2.74, 3.5 or 3.8 percent increase over current school budget of $50,852,532 were discussed Tuesday. They all represent cuts from the 4.4 percent increase in the $55 million school budget presented by Interim Superintendent Steven Dlott.
“This committee and I and the City Council supported a 7.1 percent increase last year,” said Mayor Vigeant in reference to a $2.6 million increase to the current school budget recently voted in by the council. “It’s not going to fly this year. It’s going to be very difficult.”
The phase 1 reductions (for a savings of $329,740) represent cuts that do not impact students, said Dlott, while the cuts at level 2 (for a savings of $134,759) begin to impact student services and finally the level 3 reductions (for a savings of $406,800) would affect students, especially English Language Learners.
“It’s very tough when you pit one position against another," said Dlott who characterized cutting psychologist positions at Phase 3 as a ‘bad investment.’ "But that is what you have to do when you prioritize a budget ... you can’t fund everything. You have to use your dollars wisely at all times."
The phase 3 reductions include the loss of two part-time psychology positions, five English Language Learner teachers, and one paraprofessional. It also includes the phase 2 reductions of elementary secretarial support and one student services support position at the Whitcomb School.
“They have a behavioural disorder. It’s not just a matter of straightening them out. It’s a matter of working with them in a positive way,” said Dlott of the difficulty and reprecussions of cutting the psychology positions.
School Committee Members Katherine Hennessy, Jennifer Hardy and Michelle Bodin-Hettinger spoke against the Phase 3 reductions.
“I can’t support phase 3 reductions,” said Hardy.
Michelle Bodin-Hettinger objected to cuts to the English Language Learners and Special Education Programs.
“I feel we are poised right now to make some serious investments in ELL and Special Education,” she said indicating that Phase 3 reductions would cut those investments.
The conversation regarding the budget will continue in two weeks, said Mayor Vigeant.