By Melanie Petrucci, Senior Community Reporter
Shrewsbury – In a joint meeting of the Board of Selectmen and the School Committee, held March 2, officials discussed a plan presented by Town Manager Kevin Mizikar that will shore up a $5.9 million gap heading into fiscal year (FY) 2022.
Structural deficit creates need
The meeting was presided over by the board’s chair, Beth Casavant, who said that the need for an operational override is because of a structural deficit that has been years in the making but compounded by the pandemic.
“…Revenues from all sources, local, state and federal are inadequate to maintain services at current levels which in many cases are already reduced,” Casavant said.
“We are not here because of fiscal mismanagement, poor planning or careless spending of taxpayer dollars…the possibility of not opening the new Beal Elementary School as planned snaps people to attention,” she stated.
“Mr. Mizikar would’ve needed an additional $936,677 to meet the budget request of each municipal department,” Casavant continued.
School Department viewpoint
School Committee chair Sandra Fryc agreed that revenues have not kept pace with the needs of the schools and the municipal departments.
She reflected that in FY 2021 the department reduced their budget by $1.9 million which impacted operations, educational services and roughly 30 teaching positions.
The department’s budget deficit for FY 2022 is $4.9 million and without the resources needed to bridge that gap; Fryc said that the town is facing an “educational crisis.”
At a recent School Committee meeting, Superintendent Dr. Joseph Sawyer presented a reduction plan would eliminate 48.7 teaching positions, increase class size, close all school media centers, reduce course electives at the high school and reduce special education staff and paraprofessionals.
Additionally, not opening the new Beal School as planned would save almost $1.7 million and 32.6 positions. Failing to open the school would also impact the district’s ability to offer full-day, tuition-free kindergarten.
Selectman James Kane asked where the district stood with collective bargaining. Sawyer replied that they were presently in the second year of a three-year contract and they were looking a 2 percent cost of living increase for next year but have not yet begun negotiating with the paraprofessionals whose contract ends this year.
Mizikar laid out his plan with sustainability for the future generating sufficient revenue for “an agreed upon period of time”. The plan is based on a similar model used in Arlington, Mass.
Mizikar stated that the bottom-line deficit for the town is $5,936,479 and his recommendation is to go to the voters with a $9.5 million dollar Proposition 2-1/2 operational override which factors in four percent growth in expenses year over year.
His rationale was, “Simply asking for the amount equal to the deficit we face is not a long-term solution.”
The model features an imbedded override stabilization fund that provides a surplus account for future year’s operational budgets. This model will take the town through FY 2026.
The impact will be a 1.46 percent tax rate increase which means to the average single-family homeowner valued at $481,400 an additional $703.73 in FY 2022.
Fryc asked how that tax increase compared to tax rates in surrounding communities.
School Committee member Dale Magee responded that with the increase Shrewsbury would still be below its neighboring towns.
In the event an override is put before the voters (the decision falls upon the Selectmen) it will most likely appear on the May 4 municipal election ballot.
The Board will further discuss and vote at their meeting scheduled Tuesday, March 9 at 7 p.m.