School budget discussed first night of Annual Town Meeting
By K.B. Sherman, Contributing Writer
The largest amount of time was given to the proposed Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 budget, with the school budget, as has been the case for years, being the largest single item. Of the total annual voter-approved budget of $103,812,699, the school budget would be $53,468,239, or, 51.5 percent of the total budget.
Those numbers, officials noted, did not include funds that would be added to the budgets if a $5.5 million Proposition 2-1/2 override is approved on June 3. If successful, the override will give an additional $4.2 million to the schools and $1.3 million to the town departments and the capital budget.
The school budget discussion at the ATM paralleled that of regular Board of Selectmen meetings that have occurred over the past year, with the majority of voters asking for more money for what they see as a disintegrating town school system and a minority noting that taxes not be raised so more money can be spent on schools they see as already fine. Parents with children in the school system were most supportive of an increased school budget while those without were least so. School Committee chair Dr. B. Dale Magee and School Superintendent Dr. Joseph Sawyer spoke in favor of the increased budget proposal and were supported by the majority of voters who rose to speak on the issue.
As in previous public meetings, those speaking in favor of a larger budget alleged that too few teachers in the school system have resulted in unacceptable 30-student classrooms and a drop in school achievement from Level 1 to Level 2. Some bemoaned the loss of advanced placement classes and many sports activities and humanities electives in recent years.
Town Manager Daniel Morgado noted that the town had had some success in transferring some school jobs from paid staff to unpaid volunteers and to contract work from town employee numbers.
A claim that the school system has suffered a decrease in staffing was met with some push-back by voters who claimed that this has not been the case, and indeed, that staffing numbers have actually increased. Sawyer clarified that there was a slight increase in staffing but that was due to the number of staff personnel for Special Education (SPED) and not to the hiring of more teachers. The impact of mandated SPED requirements was also a topic of conversation. Some voters voiced dismay at the town's substantial increase in SPED costs while others asserted that SPED costs and manpower increases were a good thing, and made Shrewsbury more attractive to parents of special needs children.
In all, the School Committee requested an increase in the school budget of $1,427,593 for FY 2015 while asserting that an estimated additional $2.18 million would be needed for FY 2016. Magee noted again that this budget proposal was exclusive of the money that would be added to the school budget through a $5.5 million Proposition 2-? vote win set for June 3.
Other articles on the warrant dealt with job reclassifications and pay increases for town workers, for a total increase in pay of $179,220 for FY 2015. Other articles dealing with town expenditures such as water restrictions and conveying certain small parcels of land to the town were all approved by overwhelming majorities.
Town Meeting will continue Wednesday, May 21, 2014, at 7 p.m. beginning with Article 19.
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