Planned Service Cuts to School Programs Irks Parents, Students

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Budget discussions continued this week at the Select Board’s meeting on Dec. 17 as the limitations of Proposition 2 ½ crushes services for students.

Held at the Blanchard Middle School to accommodate an anticipated crowd of students, parents, alumni and others, the meeting ran just under three hours and highlighted the deep concerns about the School Department’s $61,057,609 budget for fiscal 2021 — a 2.48 percent increase over the fiscal 2020 budget, ending June 30.

“Prop 2 ½ is a disaster as we sit here and try to figure out how to spend what every town wants to be able to spend to provide the resources it needs,” said Select Board member Mark Kost.

Board members listened to a steady stream of commenters there to advocate for a bigger pot of money for the schools.

“If the taxpayers want to give more money to the schools than the original budget has allowed,” Kost said, “then we have three choices:”

  • Reduce other town services (must get Town Meeting approval).
  • Increase revenues by implementing a pay-as-you-throw program. (Each bag of trash would be assessed a fee).
  • Vote for an override of Proposition 2 ½ by winning Town Meeting approval and winning at the ballot box).

Proposition 2 ½ is a state law that limits property tax increases to 2.5 percent plus new growth. According to a graph in Town Manager Jodi Ross’s presentation, new growth has jumped and dipped since at least 2008, peaking at around 2015 at $1.808 million. But by fiscal 2018 it had dropped to only $408K.

While new growth adds revenue it can also stress the services of public safety officials. After years of requesting more police officers, the police department will add one additional officer beginning in January. To make the numbers work, Ross took away a police cruiser.

The fire chief had requested two additional firefighter/paramedics, but will get only one and the position will not be funded until July 2020.

It was resident Shana Farnsworth who asked the searing question of the night.

“I think the bottom core line is that we don’t have enough revenue coming into the town…My main question is what are we looking at as a town to increase revenue?”

Farnsworth asked for additional ideas to Kost’s options. She voiced concern that year-after-year, services to the schools will continue to be cut.

“Our schools will get worse. Everything will compound if we don’t figure out how to increase revenue,” she said.

Numbers flew around the Katie Enos Auditorium all evening beginning with Ross’s fiscal 2021 38-page budget presentation.

“By charter I am required to prepare a budget and present that at the beginning of the budget season,” she said.

Projected revenues are $125.6 million. Proposition 2 ½ will bring in $1.97 million, and new growth will add $1.2 million. The municipality’s fiscal 2021 budget, beginning July 1, is projected to be $$120,691,230 — roughly twice the School Department budget.

But, according to an analysis conducted by Finance Director Dan O’Donnell, expenses such as employee benefits and debt service will deplete the funds. The town manager’s recommended fiscal 2021 School Department budget can be found here.

UPDATE — A total for the municipality’s fiscal 2021 projected budget of $120,691,230 was added to the second to last paragraph.