August 02, 2020

Committee cuts school account> Move result of town meeting vote

GREENVILLE — As directed by residents at the annual town meeting earlier this month, the School Committee voted Monday to cut the elementary and secondary operating account by $100,000.

Because the cuts were said to be devastating to the system, Rep. Richard Gould, D-Greenville, suggested the committee return to the town meeting to ask that the cut be restored. He said the board had two options toward this end: Ask selectmen to authorize such a meeting, or go the petition route.

“The education in this school has been impacted considerably,” he said, urging such a move.

Some school committee members were fearful of such a move, realizing why the cut was made in the first place — to send teachers a message that their demands were too high in the negotiations process.

“Personally, I have fear,” Chairman Bonnie DuBien said, adding that the school could end up in worse shape.

Board member Diane Bartley agreed to pursue the matter with selectmen and report to the board. She and others agreed, however, that if it was presented to voters again, the board should stand up and defend its budget. She believed the recent action by voters was a “reflex of anger.”

Contacted Tuesday, Town Manager David Cota said if the $100,000 were restored in the budget, it would mean a 6 percent tax increase. He said the mill rate of $15 per $1,000 valuation would increase to $15.90 per $1,000 valuation. That would mean a taxpayer with property valued at $80,000 would see an increase in the tax bill of $72.

While most of the committee members spoke against the loss, they agreed it was necessary to make the cuts and to eliminate specific positions, the latter to be done at a future meeting.

Teacher Norman Pelletier said it seemed illogical to reduce the budget by $100,000 and then go to town meeting to defend it. “It’s kind of backwards,” he said. He wondered what effect such a move would have on any future town meeting vote.

The committee went ahead and unanimously approved the following cuts: eliminated a proposed $7,000 raise for the principal; reduced the assistant principal position from full-time to half-day; eliminated all advanced placement classes; eliminated all technical preparatory classes with the exception of applied mathematics and applied communications; eliminated a current high-middle school teaching position; eliminated a part-time elementary position and agreed the balance would be taken from the fine arts, supplies, equipment and audio-visual accounts; and reduced the foreign-language program.

Teacher Roxanne Roberts suggested that the board look at the athletic account for cuts, but was told that voters specifically made the cut in the elementary and secondary operating account. The athletic budget represents an increase of about $10,000, $5,000 of which will be used to sand the bleachers and a $2,000 increase in transportation.

Teachers suggested that the committee could transfer 10 percent from one account to another, but Superintendent Gilbert Reynolds believed the committee would be taken to task by residents if it transferred funds from another account to cover the cuts in the elementary and secondary account.

The cut would have been deeper had the school committee accepted the recommendation of an arbitration panel regarding the teachers contract. In addition to the $100,000 cut, the school committee would have had to find about $60,000 in savings to offset increases in teacher salaries.

Some of the teachers who attended expressed concern about classroom size. Keyth Carter said she had 32 pupils in her fourth-grade class. She said the number was too small to have two fourth-grade classes, but too large to fit into one room.

“It bothers me to think people think I’m just taking their money,” she said. “As teachers we do care, and we’re trying to do the best we can, but it doesn’t always work out.” Carter said she wanted people to view teachers as caring people.

Teacher Lena Symonds suggested that everyone should focus on what the cut means to the children.

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