Westborough Town Meeting approves school budget and articles
By Melanie Petrucci, Contributing Writer
Westborough – Westborough School Superintendent Amber Bock presented the fiscal year (FY) 2018 school budget of $48,600,484 to Town Meeting March 18 at Westborough High School.
Four key areas guide the school department budget: sustaining of excellence, providing safe and well-run facilities, hiring and retaining high quality personnel and managing growth and impacts to the budget.
“Our commitment to this community remains very clear,” Bock explained. “To our schools, we are focused on the charge of educating all children who move to Westborough, ages 3 to 22 as guided by public education law. We need to meet the diverse needs of all our students and remain relevant and current in educating our children.”
Bock described the budget process as collaborative and transparent with town committees and groups. This year’s budget recommendation is a 4.98-percent increase over last year.
She also reported some good news in the form of increased state Chapter 70 funding that goes directly to the town. Westborough came in at the highest increase (of 32 percent) in the state with $1,895,000 in additional monies coming to town.
The budget is driven by district growth, a shift in special education need and growth in the ELL (English language learners) population. Grants have been maximized and a decrease in circuit breaker reimbursement has impacted the budget.
“I want to be clear,” Bock said. “I reiterate this every year that we are not advertising to bring in more difficult and complex students.
Bock informed Town Meeting, “3,845 students are currently being educated in Westborough. We are getting immense distance out of our education dollar.”
“This is a budget to sustain programming, respond to enrollment growth and continue to implement our strategic plan and yet remain conservative,” she said. “We want to develop cost-effective programs, we want to think long term and I emphasize that we continue to contribute to this community. Our students live with you and work with you…We are a budget of people.”
Westborough resident Dominic Capriole was the first to speak after the presentation and said, “This was a well-structured, self-interested presentation, but it’s not true.” He then made a motion to amend the budget by cutting it to $48,000,000.
Capriole reasoned that when coming up with the budget the school department never considers the population without children in the schools. People tend to move out of town when their last child graduates high school.
He urged people to support his amendment by stating, “If we don’t stop something that is out of control, it will remain out of control.”
Other residents voiced their support of the budget with regards to its role in maintaining home values and the value of the strong school department to the community while another voiced concerns about the new building in town, rising school population and the senior population not receiving its share of funding.
In the end, the recommended school budget of $48.8 million was passed.
Town Meeting approved other school-related warrant articles, including:
- Article 19 allows for the amount of $2,438,250 to be borrowed for Hastings Elementary School’s geothermal heating/cooling system (which differed from the amount of $2,200,000 listed in the warrant.)
- Article 20 allows the town to appropriate the sum of $1.5 million for the purchase of four new and permanent modular classrooms at Armstrong Elementary School.
- Article 21, High School Drainage Swale Evaluation, an article jointly presented by the School Department and the Conservation Commission, allows the appropriation of $29,000 for the purpose of evaluating the drainage swale that runs through the high school property.
- Article 22, Lease Agreement Authorization, allows for the Board of Selectmen, with School Department approval, to lease property for providing services mandated by law to the 18- to 22-year-old, special education population.
- Article 42, Fales Elementary School Feasibility Study, authorizes an issuance of debt of $500,000 to undertake the feasibility study which is the next step of the MSBA funding process for school construction projects. The AFC recommended the amount to come from Free Cash. However, it passed as a borrowing article.
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