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Fin Com & Selectmen Demand Sustainable Solution to Schools Budget Crisis [with video]

Funding for the schools remains a challenge, even after cutting deeply into the Groton municipal budget. Finance Committee Member Prager pointed out that there is a lot of information that is needed in order to make decisions, stressing that the budget from the school needs to be "sustainable."

He reiterated, "We can't have an every year crisis. It needs to be based on needs-based budgeting, and not that everyone expects a 2.5 percent increase every year and spends it."

The issue of an override came up again as a potential reality for both towns. According to Town Manager Mark Haddad, anything over $100,000 for Dunstable will require them to hold an override vote.

Selectman Josh Degen stressed that "an override will not succeed in Groton without seeing what FY16, FY17 and FY18 will look like so we don't throw a band aid on a wound. ....this places both communities at a disadvantage without knowing what is coming."

A number of parents in the audience expressed frustration with the budget problems, saying they had moved to Groton for the high quality education and the services they were seeing being cut. Maggie Hammid, having moved from Toronto, "wanted to live here for the education," and suggested cutting all of the School Board members.

"The salaries of these teachers are going up at a disproportionate rate.....Does every single teacher need an iPad? The school administration has no accountability to the Town Manager. No one oversees the School Committee.....None of the cuts the School Committee is doing do I agree to....They are not listening."

Fin Com member Gary Green replied that Fin Com, Board of Selectmen and Town Manager are responsible for the municipal side of the budget while the School Committee is responsible for the school budget. Prager added, "The problem in the school is wages, they are squeezing everything out." Robertson added that all the teachers are at the top salary level. Reportedly, some 80 percent of the $36M budget is wages.

Selectman Stuart Schulman said he would "support an override if we are not asked to do one every year and I am confident that they will ask for another one."

Fulton asked what it would take to regain to trust of the School Committee. Prager replied that he "didn't distrust the School Committee, but he did distrust their ability to project. We need hard projections for this year and every year." Hammid added that the School Committee ran over budget by $1M and "in reality no one was looking."

Regional School Committee member Leslie Lathrop defended the School Committee saying that a "Business manager that they trusted made a mistake and no one caught it until the new business manager came onboard." Apparently the old manager was using Excel spreadsheets as the School Committee didn't want to buy a new software package.

Degen commented that the School Committee certification date was fast approaching and stressed that he can't support an override until he sees the future budget projections. The response we keep getting from the School Committee is that "We don't know. Give us some ballpark projections."

Following further discussion, the end result is that if Dunstable says no to an override, the School Department can call a Super Town Meeting where both towns vote together on the School District budget, and where the majority rules. This would be the least desirable outcome for both towns in the Regional School District.

Groton Herald

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