It’s not pretty, said School Committee Chairman Joseph Scott on January 8 about the first draft of the fiscal year 2015 education budget which, even with the proposed cuts, is still “in the hole,” as Committee Member Christine Marcolini put it.
The Finance Committee wants the FY15 budget to reflect a two-percent decrease in last year’s budget of $5,582,338, forcing the School Committee to reckon with the need to increase the FY15 budget by $347,660 and the demand to reduce it by $111,000.
The FY15 budget draft cuts $63,212 from the regular day program, while increasing Special Education spending by $368,732 and Bristol County Agricultural High School by $42,140.
The budget draft slashes the Sippican Elementary School’s enrichment program, which caused a stir during the meeting when two residents spoke out in strong opposition to cutting the 1.5 enrichment positions down to 0.5, saving the budget $44,384. The residents pleaded for the committee to reconsider and stressing the importance of the program serving “gifted and talented” students.
“Why are we even considering cutting a program that directly impacts the whole school?” asked Marion resident Lynne Parks, whose child once utilized the program but has moved on from elementary school. “I will do whatever I can to keep this person (Enrichment Teacher Elizabeth Milde) here.”
Parks asked the committee to put the $44,000 required to keep the program in tact to an override for the community to vote on, pointing out that it was the community who, years ago, actually appropriated the funds for the program.
Pam Friedman, a math tutor, said vital activities like the science fair could not happen without the enrichment program, and stressed the importance of accelerated math instruction in meeting the “special needs” of the “highly gifted” students.
“We are the only community who’s held onto [the enrichment program],” said Parks. “Please, please…please,” she begged, asking the committee to consider funding a 1.0 position instead of cutting back all the way to a 0.5.
“No matter what we put out…to cut,” said Marcolini, “we’d have the same dialog about how important it is.” She said the subcommittee recognized the importance of the program, but it “had to make the difficult decision,” adding that the budget is still just a draft.
The Special Education out of district placement line item is where the bulk of its budget increase lies, up $301,300 from last year.
“That’s a major hit to the budget,” said Superintendent Doug White. “This is where we’re at, at this particular time.” According to White, a decrease in federal funding for special education places further strain on the Sped budget.
Also pertaining to the budget, the impact of a proposed reduction of $47,871 in the Physical Education line item will be less PE time for students, and the absorption of Health Education into the general classroom. The 1.6 PE positions would be reduced to 1.0.
“Yet, there is not enough time for cursive to be taught in the regular classroom,” said Parks. “Does this concern the committee?”
“It’s not perfect,” said Marcolini, who serves on the committee’s budget subcommittee. “Any time you have to cut, it’s tough.” She said that the subcommittee looks at making the least impact on students, and it boils down to either making cuts, or cutting staff and increasing classroom size.
The auspicious uncertainty of Chapter 70 funding is a concern for committee members, with Assistant Superintendent Dr. Elise Frangos describing the “giant disappointment” of receiving three emails, all informing her that the Town would be granted the money totaling $175,000, only to be informed later that it was an error and the Town has not yet been awarded the money.
“That’s a heck of an error,” said Committee Member Jay Pateakos.
Frangos said the reason why Marion has been passed over so far is because of a more compelling need in urban schools for the funding, and the application process has become considerably competitive. Continuing applications for Chapter 70 funding are considered before new applications, like Marion’s.
White calmly stressed that this budget was still in its rough form, and will require some “massaging” throughout the process.
“It’s a draft. It’s not pretty,” said Scott, “but we’ll hopefully come out better in the long run.”
In other matters, the committee accepted an anonymous donation of $25,000 to the Sippican Principal’s Discretionary Fund, in a 4-1 vote with Vice-Chair Christine Winters opposing the acceptance of the money without a proper system in place for earmarking the expenditure of the fund. She pointed out that the $25,000 would bring the balance of the account up to about $40,000, an amount too substantial to manage without a set policy for spending it.
Historically, the money has been used to offset field trip costs, help pay off lunch accounts, and buy technology equipment among other things.
The committee also accepted a $500 donation for the Project Grow program from the same anonymous donor.
By Jean Perry