By K.B. Sherman, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – A standing-room-only crowd attended the Shrewsbury Board of Selectmen's meeting March 18. The topic on the agenda was the Fiscal Year 2015 Operating and Capital Budget, but the crowd's interest was squarely on funding for the town's schools, which participants claimed is woefully inadequate.
Over a period of nearly three hours, 29 voters, plus School Superintendent Dr. Joseph Sawyer and School Board Committee Chair Sandra Fryc, rose to address the selectmen and the audience with claims that inadequate funding has damaged the town's schools and has resulted in a drop from Level 1 to Level 2 in achievement.
First to speak was Robert Holland, 8 Raymond Drive, who listed what he believes are some of the schools” shortcomings and which were repeated numerous times by other attendees. He claimed that Shrewsbury has been irresponsible in funding its schools, in part because the town has refused to raise its property tax rates. This was a common theme during the meeting as voters addressed selectmen and urged them to put before the voters a Proposition 2-? override.
Another common theme was that the town is being inured by the voters” unwillingness to fund the schools at the necessary level. Holland decried unfunded mandates from the state legislature and what he claimed were insufficient funds for not only the town's schools, but roads, pensions for town employees, and money for town seniors” programs.
The most common complaint was school class size, with proponents of a Proposition 2- ? override noting that the average class size has increased to 30 students.
Two attendees bucked the trend and claimed that more money for the schools was unnecessary and even wasteful. John Lukach, 4 Bunker Hill Drive, presented a list to rebut the claims of the others at the meeting. He testified that town teachers” salaries have increased 48 percent, or $8.9 million, since 2004, despite the recession the country has been experiencing. He also maintained that the staff to teacher ratio in the schools is 16.7 to 1, not 30 to 1, and questioned how many non-teacher staff members were really needed. He also claimed that Shrewsbury teachers were more highly paid than the state average. Echoing a note from other speakers, he decried the cost of special education mandates, stating that, while state special education costs have increased 20.6 percent from 2001 to 2011, Shrewsbury costs have risen from 13.7 percent to 24.6 percent during the same period.
After identifying himself as a professional mathematician and statistician, Dr. Charles Garabedian, 24 Westmont Road, presented a study alleging that more money for a school does not result in improvements in student achievement, either locally in Massachusetts or nationwide.? ??Sawyer and Fryc also spoke, reiterating the points made by most other attendees. Sawyer said he is proud that his schools were spending more than the average on special education.
After all had been heard, the Board of Selectmen made their comments. Town Manager Daniel J. Morgado countered an earlier claim that the town is “broke” and instead claimed that the town is simply being frugal and well-run. Selectmen Chair Henry J. Fitzgerald asserted that the town must react now to solve the school problem, while Selectman Moira Miller added that school funding has been a topic for them since 2004, and that the issue needs to be put before the voters this year. Selectman James F. Kane added that the time has come for the town to “go smart” in dealing with the problem. All agreed that a Proposition 2-? override needs to be put before the voters this year, although there was no formal vote on the matter.