After five hours of often intense deliberations last Wednesday night, the school committee produced a balanced budget that keeps music and class sizes intact but eliminates the Elementary World Language program and raises fees.
The school department had their work cut out for them, trying to trim $1.3 million from their original baseline budget of $24.2 million to reach the town’s figure of $22.9 million.
At the meeting, Superintendent Eileen Williams presented the committee with her budget recommendation to meet the town’s projected goal for the schools, which included over $400,000 in raised fees and some programs being cut.
One of the budget casualties is the Elementary World Language program at kindergarten and grade one; Williams wanted to expand to include grade two, but the committee axed it entirely towards the end of their budget debate to save $49,000.
Williams also recommended the elimination of Family and Consumer Science personnel at Duxbury High School and Duxbury Middle School, a move that would have saved the system $142,000. The program was to be absorbed into the health program at DMS and eliminated completely at DHS.
Amendments to the budget by school committee members, however, saved the courses. Because it will not take $142,000 to hire new teachers for the program due to a pair of retirements, the school committee said it would allocate $40,000 per teacher, thus needing to find a way to make up for the other $64,000 in other revenues or cuts.
In terms of fees, the committee approved a fee of $180 per student for transportation to school if they live under two miles from the school. Committee members also set a family cap at $360 per family to relieve this burden on larger families.
In regards to school lunches, while Williams proposed a 50 cent increase in lunches, in part to help defray the cost of health care for food service workers, the committee instead voted for a 25 cent increase, making elementary lunches $2.25 and DMS/DHS lunches $2.50.
On a motion from committee member John Magnarelli, the committee voted to change the co-curricular fees at DMS and DHS from set fees of $40 and $100 to cover unlimited involvement respectively and instead go to a rate per activity of $50 at DHS and $25 at DMS.
The biggest fee increase, however, involved preschool tuition, which jumped from $2 per hour to $6 per hour as committee members recognized the bargain parents were currently getting by using the program and how increasing the fee would be an ideal revenue generator.
Recognizing the comments of the public during a January open forum on the budget, Williams and the committee decided not to cut small group instruction for instruments at grade five and not to increase class sizes in courses such as art, music, physical education and library skills.
At the recommendation of Music Director Ric Madru, the marching band was eliminated, but replaced with a Pep Band, which will be voluntary in nature and has a stipend of $3,000 for two advisors.
Other items in the budget include retaining six professional days for school staff, hiring a Substance Abuse Counselor at DHS and eliminating transportation for students in out-of-district vocational programs.
After hours of debate, and at 12:20 a.m. Thursday morning, the committee voted 4-1 to pass the balanced budget with all the amendments and a capital budget of zero dollars. Magnarelli voted against the budget reiterating his stance made several times throughout the night that the baseline budget needs to be cut now to avoid similar budget crunching in the future, that revenue projections were overstated and his displeasure with other moves during the night.
Business Manger Mickey McGonagle also discussed an early look at the FY06 budget, which he indicated would see a 5 percent increase in the “baseline budget,” in part because collective bargaining increases are set for 3.5 percent rather than 3 percent in FY05. With this scenario, he warned, it would not be possible to reduce fees nor restore programs.
The budget now goes before the town’s Finance Committee, Fiscal Advisory Committee and Board of Selectmen before reaching voters at the Annual Town Meeting on March 13.