School Budget Debate Continues
O'Connor recommends reducing her recommendation by about $105,000.
Westborough School Superintendent Marianne O’Connor has recommended reducing her $42,799,208 budget proposal by about $105,000 by not requesting reinstating either a full-time reading specialist at the Mill Pond School or a .5 strings position next fall.
The school committee Wednesday night also began discussing other options to reduce Westborough’s share of the school budget, including implementing a transportation fee for students in grades seven through 12, as well as students in Kindergarten to grade six residing within two miles of school.
But, additional mandates and losing $1.25 million in state and federal aid over the past five years are among the large, uncontrollable factors affecting the budget, board members said.
Vice Chairman Stephen Doret said he wants to see a list of “big ticket items” compared between the current budget and next year: salary increases, transportation costs, special education, and the mandated increases.
“I think when you put those on the table, what you find is that the entire increase that we are talking about comes from things that are not within our control,” Doret said.
The board will discuss the budget again next Wednesday night. The board will vote a budget request Dec. 19, when its 6:30 p.m. budget public hearing is scheduled.
O’Connor’s initial budget recommendation represented a 3.67 percent increase.
School Committee Chairman Ilyse Levine-Kanji said that when state and federal aid is included, the school budget has increased an average of 1.82 percent over the past five years.
Stimulus funding helped Westborough offset the loss of the state and federal aid the first four years, she said.
“What happens is first we push the burden onto the local taxpayers and then also we push it onto school families,” Levine-Kanji said.
Rising special education enrollment and “spiraling” costs, and a growing English Language Learner population are among the other budget factors, she said.
“We have one half-day Kindergarten class this year where the entire class is English as a second language,” Levine-Kanji said.
“It’s great for our community. People of different backgrounds give our children real-life exposure to cultures” which will help “our students succeed in a global economy”, “but it’s also a fact that ELL services cost more.”
School officials have been “proactive over the past five years in changing how we conduct business,” she said.
The schools have seen a “6 percent reduction in staff over the past five years;” decreased custodial overtime (“when people are sick, we don’t get any subs”); and “parents have sent in more supplies, and parent groups have really stepped up,” Levine-Kanji said.
“Our athletics went to fewer scrimmages and less contests this year. And our fine arts is also doing less competitions, and fees are being assumed by students,” she said.
Levine-Kanji urged community members to check out the “fees” link on the school district website.
“Our budget debate boils down to how we balance the quality of our educational system with the ability of our town to pay,” she said.
“Ultimately, it’s going to be up to town meeting to decide.”