Latest Shrewsbury school budget proposal closes gap a bit


By Joan Goodchild Community Reporter

Shrewsbury – Shrewsbury School Superintendent Dr. Joseph Sawyer presented a revised district budget for fiscal year (FY) 2012 at the March 9 School Committee meeting. Although the proposal is a 2.98 percent increase over last year, the $48.5 million proposal is still $2.1 million more than the $46.3 million recommendation put forth by Town Manager Daniel Morgado.

Last month, Sawyer presented a potential budget scenario of $48.9 million, which is a 3.9 percent increase over FY 2011's budget of $47.1 million.

Prior to the economic downturn, Shrewsbury schools saw budget increases in the 6 to 7 percent range each year, Sawyer said.

The revised proposal contained many adjustments, but Sawyer cautioned that the document is never “static” because of changes that occur over the course of a year that cannot always be predicted. He laid out four priorities when crafting the latest proposal; including maintaining current personnel and programming levels, responding to ongoing mandates, making strategic investments to mitigate long-term cost drivers, and preventing further erosion of resources, especially textbooks, curriculum materials and technology.

Cost increases in the budget proposal include $35,000 for professional development, $207,197 for transportation, $210,000 for textbook and curriculum materials, and $400,000 for technology investments. While a recommendation for technology funding had been slimmed down from an initial recommendation of $455,000, Sawyer noted the money was desperately needed simply to move the district forward with regard to current standards. He informed the board the district was replacing computers at a rate of one every 15 years and that roughly two-thirds of the district's computer hardware cannot run current operating systems.

“We'se making the best use of all these machines as we can, but we'se fallen behind the curve in terms of our replacement plan,” he said.

The personnel increases include salaries for a half-day kindergarten teacher and an aide for the classroom. Kindergarten classroom student levels are higher than where the district would like them to be currently, said Sawyer, who noted classes are around 20 or 21 students per class. Other personnel additions include a special education support secretary, a special education technology specialist and an advanced math coach at Oak Middle School, among others.

School Committee members thanked Sawyer and his administration for their hard work on the budget revisions, but expressed frustration at the seemingly ongoing budget issues that continue to plague the town each year.

“What's the end game?” asked member Mark Murray. “If you give people a plan, a vision, a little hope, they can suck it up for a little while. But if it's the same thing year in, year out, it gets old. What's the plan?”

“I think that's a question we should own,” member B. Dale Magee said in response to Murray's comments. “Although we can's be guaranteed a certain amount of money every year for the school department, we have to argue it out each year. To me it gets a little easier if we have a blueprint for each area.”

“It is a responsible budget that will meet the needs of students,” said member Erin Canzano. “It's good enough, but it's not great. But it will keep us moving in the right direction and our direction is very good.”

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