Crediting school officials for their tough decisions in weighing budget cuts and increased revenue, members of the Finance Committee voted unanimously to recommend the budget at Annual Town Meeting. Crediting school officials for their tough decisions in weighing budget cuts and increased revenue, members of the Finance Committee voted unanimously to recommend the budget at Annual Town Meeting.

At the committee’s meeting last Tuesday, Duxbury Public Schools’ Business Manager Mickey McGonagle presented a brief recap of the school committee’s five-hour budget session on February 11 that produced a $22.9 million package for FY05.

McGonagle also discussed the decrease in state aid and increase in health insurance funding that has put both the town and the schools in a budget crunch.    Comparing Duxbury to towns such as Hanover, Norwell, Marshfield, Hingham and others, he said that while these towns all have lower percentages of their population in schools, they are receiving more Chapter 70 state aid.

According to McGonagle’s numbers, nearly 23 percent of Duxbury’s population is enrolled in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade and the state aid per student is $821.06.

Regarding the FY05 school budget, finance committee members asked McGonagle and school committee member John Heinstadt about some aspects of the FY05 budget, including the proposed transportation fee.  The school system is recommending a $180 per student charge for those living under two miles from town schools and projects a revenue of approximately $262,800 from this new fee.

Committee member Les Ball inquired whether the school committee took into account the lack of sidewalks in town for students who may opt to walk to school rather than pay the fee.

McGonagle answered that while Duxbury was unlike other towns in terms of its lack of sidewalks and public transportation for students to fall back on, state law says the department does not have to transport those who live under two miles.  He added that a more likely option will be parents driving students to school, which will not cause that much of a traffic jam with the schools’ staggered start times.

The committee also discussed Article 10 of the Annual Town Meeting that will establish a revolving bus fund to handle the money gathered by the transportation fee.  McGonagle compared this to the proposed fund for a full-day kindergarten program and said that the school system will look more into the exact details of how parents will pay if the measure is approved by town voters.

Ball asked if the school department feared that like the all-day kindergarten program, parents would put a stop to the transportation fee by voting down the bus fund.  McGonagle said that this measure is within the context of the FY05 budget and it will be presented to voters that way later this month.

Regarding the $68,192 decrease in the schools’ supply budget, McGonagle said he had to go line by line through the nearly 200 items in the supply budget to see where to cut and would get updated information to the committee before Town Meeting.

The finance committee also brought up areas of replacing retiring teachers and the lack of a capital budget for FY05.

At the conclusion of their presentation, McGonagle and Heinstadt left the room and finance committee members debated whether or not to support the proposed school budget.

“They did a great job of not increasing class sizes and keeping the popular programs intact while at the same time finding places to cut,” said Ken Fortini.  “They’ve done a great job.”

Other members agreed and voted unanimously to recommend the $22.9 million budget at the March 13 Annual Town Meeting.