Voters might get two school budget options in March: one including $240,000, the other with that amount potentially coming from school bus fees.
The Westborough School Committee discussed the two-budget idea Wednesday night during its budget discussion.
The debate came after some community members said 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.next year would create safety issues. About 12 community members attended the meeting.
“Would town meeting be willing to vote that $240,000 so that we don’t have to have a bus fee?” Chairman Ilyse Levine-Kanji asked.
“And the reason why that benefits the entire town is because there would be less safety issues and less traffic issues.”
The board will vote a budget request Dec. 19, when its 6:30 p.m. budget public hearing is scheduled.
Westborough School Superintendent Marianne O’Connor has recommended reducing her 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.
Vice Chairman Stephen Doret said “the real issue before the school committee is ‘How do we continue to deliver a quality education with what money will be made available?”
“How do we raise the money in order to maintain a quality education? The only way that can happen is for us to do our very best in managing the budget,” he said.
“If we bring a budget to town meeting that gets voted down, that means that teachers go out the door.”
Levine-Kanji said the school committee has discussed bus fees last five years.
She said a subcommittee she served on met with police and others “to try and figure out, ‘Did transportation fees make sense?’” But there were “so many problems with setting up bus fees,” she said.
“The reason why I’m in favor of it now is because I don’t want to make additional cuts. And I think what we’ve looked at the cuts that we would need to make, it makes much more sense to me to raise fees – but only if the school community buys into paying the bus fee,” Levine-Kanji said.
“We do not want anybody walking on Route 30. We do not want anybody walking on Ruggles Street to get to Fales. The school committee before us prohibited our high school kids from running on Ruggles. We don’t want young kids walking on Ruggles. But what we’re trying to do is to get buy-in from people that they would rather spend a little bit of money to support education.
“I think we all do so many things for our kids: we pay for sports, and music lessons, and dance lessons, and tae kwon do, and video games, and cell phones. Would we be willing to spend $2 per kid to continue the top-notch education that we all see in Westborough?”
Member Nicole Sullivan told the audience members that “we need your support.”
“The people we hear from are the people who complain. The people who think we pay too much. The people who think our taxes are too high. That’s who we hear from,” she said.
“So to have parents sit in those chairs and taxpayers say to us, ‘We don’t want to do a bus fee. We want another option’ that’s what we need to hear. Because we need that support.”