The Old Rochester Regional School Committee has approved the ORR School District’s proposed $17,640,793 budget for the 2016-17 school year.
The budget has been a source of contention, and the committee pared down by $660,947 the originally proposed budget amount of $18,301,919. At the same time, the committee approved seeking a debt exclusion of $603,206, replacing a possible property tax increase above the usual 2.5 percent increase ceiling set by the state in order to supplement school capital costs.
“This budget has everything you could possibly have packed into it,” explained Superintendent Doug White as he went over the proposal. The budget is split by the three towns, whose shares are decided by the number of students from each town, as well as the towns’ property taxes and wealth indicators. For the 2016-2017 school year, Marion is assessed at $4,198,277 and Rochester sits in the middle at $4,879,108. Mattapoisett is assessed as the most expensive at $5,223,588.
The committee made several cuts to the proposed budget on feedback from the three towns. A second social worker position at the high school was taken out, as well as a second art teacher, a part-time American Sign Language teacher, and a fourth guidance counselor. An extension of the late bus to Wednesday nights (late buses currently run on Tuesday and Thursday nights) was also removed, much like the $45,000 earmarked for new Chromebooks intended for classroom use.
Old Rochester Regional High School Principal Michael Devoll bemoaned the administrative staff position, which was also cut from the proposed budget.
“We have a principal and a vice principal … that’s it,” said Devoll. “Two administrators for 770 students is not enough. We need a Dean of Students to handle disciplinary issues.”
Devoll continued, “I’m tasked with developing six different agendas, then forced to attend all six meetings and make sure the agendas are being followed. [ORR Junior High School Principal] Kevin Brogioli and I are in meetings every day of the week. We evaluate everything … it’s a full-time job.”
As for trying to keep budgets from growing too large, White pointed out that the school districts try to fund with grants, “But over time those grants disappear, and the money comes back into the budget.”
ORR Assistant Superintendent Elise Frangos introduced a novel tactic, explaining that the district has used GoFundMe pages for materials that couldn’t be financed in the budget.
Committee member Cynthia Johnson addressed the budget cuts made by the committee.
“These are needs for the school, not wants,” Johnson said. “We are disappointed that we can’t fund these at this time, but we also know how important it is to get a budget approved to address critical needs.”
There was again conversation at one point about seeking a Proposition 2½ override. White indicated that the committee would not go forward with the plan at this time and that the debt exclusion would step into play instead. The exclusion, which Johnson pointed out “was encouraged and introduced as an idea by the town governments,” functions as a loan of $603,206 approved by voters to the ORR school district by the three towns. The exclusion will be repaid at a fixed amount over 10 years.
When questioned as to why it was that the ORR school district could not afford to pay for a second art teacher when Fairhaven currently has four art teachers and Dartmouth is downsizing from seven, White pointed out that the problem has to do with districts.
“ORR is funded as four different districts, whereas towns like Fairhaven are funded as one district,” said White. “Whereas we have to distribute the funds between all of the different districts, whereas schools which are counted as one district have much more freedom to distribute funds as they would like.”
With the budget and the debt exclusion approved by the school committee, it will now be passed on to the Board of Selectmen of each town for consideration before Town Meeting.
The next meeting of the Old Rochester regional School Committee is scheduled for April 13 at 6:30 pm in the ORRJHS media room.
By Andrea Ray