At the School Committee meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 14, the panel approved a budget proposal for FY13. It was months in the making, with a series of nips and tucks that spurred debate in the past few weeks. The approved plan proposes a 3.25 percent increase over the previous school budget, for a total of $41,282,909.
The approved plan is a compromise of two proposals presented by Superintendent Marianne O’Connor at the Dec. 7 meeting. The first plan increased the current budget by 5.16 percent, which represented a level service increase. The second plan increased the budget by 2.99 percent and included a series of cuts that concerned school committee members (see outline of cuts in this Westborough Patch article).
“A lot of us felt the cuts were too deep last week,” said Ilyse Levine-Kanji, referring to the reduced set of numbers. “So, we asked for a middle ground, and that’s where we are tonight.”
The proposal includes a fee increase totaling $210,000. O’Connor said that the money could be raised through kindergarten and preschool tuitions, activities fees, facilities fees and transportation fees.
Both Levine-Kanji and committee Chairperson Karen Henderson expressed concern about imposing transportation fees. Levine-Kanji said that the schools are not equipped to deal with increased traffic and there would be a need to hire crossing guards. She was also skeptical about implementing transportation fees.
She suggested the board consider lowering the expected revenue collection component by $100,000, raising the bottom line to $41,382,909. The motion was defeated 3-2.
If approved by voters at the March 17 Annual Town Meeting, the 3.25 percent increase will be the largest percentage hike in the school budget since FY09. Previously approved increases, as reviewed by O’Connor, are as follows:
"I would ask this community to suppport a budget that maintains this asset while we go back to better times as a community,” said member Jody Hensley, adding that she felt the 3.25 percent increase was a reasonable amount to request.
The proposal will next go to the Town Manager and Advisory Finance Committee. Town Manager Jim Malloy will include the proposal in a presentation about the town budget before the Board of Selectmen on Jan. 10.
Member Steven Doret reminded the committee that changes can be made, if necessary, up to the March 17 Town Meeting. “Nothing is final until Town Meeting votes on it.”