Joint meeting in Shrewsbury tackles tough budget questions

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By Joan Goodchild Community Reporter

Shrewsbury – Budgets for fiscal year (FY) 2012 were the subject of a joint meeting of Shrewsbury's Board of Selectmen, School Committee and Finance Committee March 2.

Several financial issues are pending for the town, including a school budget gap and a town budget that could only be balanced, officials said, with the loss of three positions within the town's Fire Department.

Last month, Superintendent of Schools Joseph Sawyer went before the selectmen to present a potential budget scenario of $48.9 million, which is a 3.9 percent increase over FY 2011's budget of $47.1 million. The budget scenario is 5.48 percent more than the town manager's recommendation of $46.3 million for the school budget.

With the budget in the spotlight at the joint meeting, Sawyer explained that while the proposal asks for an increase, the district will see over $2 million in savings as the result of financial prudence by district administrators. Cost savings from vocational tuition, choice tuition received by the district from out-of-town students who choose to attend Shrewsbury High School and remaining eligible federal stimulus funding all contributed to making the budget increase less severe.

Sawyer also noted spending will need to increase for technologyrelated upgrades that can no longer be put off after several years of underfunding in that area. The proposal calls for $455,000 in technology spending. Spending for textbooks and personnel expenses will also increase.

Selectman Ben Tartaglia proposed eliminating bus fees for families in town. At past board meetings, Tartaglia has suggested those fees be removed from the school budget and made into a municipal item, which would then allow the board to possibly eliminate it.

Shrewsbury students who choose to ride the bus to school are asked to pay a $250 fee, with a $500 cap per family. While all agreed the bus fees were diffi cult for many families to pay, the idea to eliminate them was not a popular one among board members. Selectman James Kane noted that bringing up the bus fee issue was “disingenuous” and “not at all feasible.”

School Committee Chair Sandra Fryc said while the subject could be considered, eliminating the fees meant the monies would have to be made up somewhere else in the budget.

Also discussed was the town” s portion of the budget for 2012, which Town Manager Daniel Morgado said could only be balanced after cutting three members of the Fire Department, a potential move that alarmed Finance Committee member Claire O”Connor.

“To function at a building fire, they need to have a reasonable number of people there to keep firefighters safe,” she said.

Morgado said a reshuffling of shifts within the department would keep staffing at a safe level.

Shrewsbury's Annual Town Meeting will be held Monday, May 16.