By K.B. Sherman, Community Reporter
That was the main topic of discussion during the Board of Selectmen's March 26 meeting. And while the board members agreed there is a need for action, not all of them agreed that an override at this time is the answer.
Board of Selectmen Maurice DePalo noted that there was little likelihood of any more state aid coming for Fiscal Year (FY) 2014. Thus, he continued, the town would have to find the extra funds itself.
At the March 6 selectmen's meeting, almost two dozen voters had urged the selectmen to consider an override in order to allocate more funds for the schools.
At the March 26 meeting, with representatives from the School Committee in the audience, the selectmen further discussed the matter. Selectman James Kane was first to speak and, after reading prepared remarks, made it clear that the town needed to pass a Proposition 2-? override to provide for what he saw as a multi-million dollar shortfall in not only the FY 2014 budget, but future ones as well.
“We need a course correction,” he said. “We do not have a spending problem, but rather, a revenue problem.”
Kane proposed an “operational override” of $3.8 million for FY 2014 no later than this spring. He asked the selectmen to vote on this in conjunction with additional information that was expected from the Finance and School committees.
Selectman Henry Fitzgerald said that “the School Board is doing a great job, but financial erosion is taking its toll” and that if no action is taken this year, the hole will just get bigger. He claimed that at $11,300 per student per year Shrewsbury is in the bottom 12 percent of state funding per student although its schools are ranked near the top in quality. Agreeing with Kane, he also urged a 2-? override vote be held soon lest school quality fall beyond recovery.
Selectman John Lebeaux stated that he does not feel an override is right at this time, especially in the face of a continuing lack of financial information, particularly from the School Committee, which has yet to submit a detailed budget. He then requested by the next selectmen's meeting, a current and detailed budget from both the School Committee and the Finance Committee. He also noted that the town has to work with the money “it can plan on today” and not on other potential sources such as the state or from a possible 2-? override. He also asked for a detailed plan on how the potential extra $3.8 million garnered from an override would be spent by the School Committee.
Selectwoman Moira Miller – participating from offsite by phone – agreed with Kane, and noted that Shrewsbury has not been a town that has in the past tried to over-spend through an override. She added that although personally conflicted on the matter, she believes that the selectmen are elected to make hard decisions that at times will not be popular with some of the voters.
DePalo ended the discussion by noting “my priority is class size. That has to be addressed.” Otherwise, he took no formal position on the issue at the meeting.
The discussion was then continued to the board's next scheduled meeting, Tuesday, April 9.