School Committee member: Budget would 'kick off a death spiral'

ORR looks at staff cuts
By Georgia Sparling | Mar 02, 2017
Photo by: Georgia Sparling

Mattapoisett — When it comes to municipal funding for the junior high and high school budget, the word from the towns is “dire,” said Old Rochester Regional School Committee Chair Tina Rood.

With funding from Rochester, Marion and Mattapoisett lower than hoped for, the School Committee is looking to again boost the budget with out of district students who bring with them $5,000 each in tuition through the school choice program.

At Wednesday’s School Committee meeting, Rood said the Budget Subcommittee believes an $18,475,627 budget is what ORR needs for the coming school year. That figure, almost $835,000 or 4.7 percent more than the current budget, includes moving a part-time art teacher to full time (which would make two full-time art teachers), technology upgrades and late buses for students who stay after school two days a week.

Tri-town leaders, however, responded with a figure about $382,000 lower than the proposed budget. According to Rood, they leaders told the subcommittee that funds are too tight this year to accommodate the larger sum. The budget proposed by the towns would see an overall increase of $452,242 for the towns. Mattapoisett would see an increase of $229,282 and Marion an increase of $191,861. Rochester’s assessment would decrease by $103,892.

Marion, Mattapoisett and Rochester are each responsible, by law, for a certain amount of the ORR budget, based on the number of students sent from their municipality. The towns always give more than what the state requires, and the towns’ counter budget is still more than they technically have to pay.

But without that $382,000, Rood said the School Committee would need to drop one high school art position down to part time. The late bus that runs twice a week with approximately 50 students each day would be eliminated.

At the junior high, the music teacher’s position would disappear and with it the band and music classes.

“Almost every student in the school goes through that program,” said ORR Junior High Principal Kevin Brogioli.

At the high school, technology instruction would be removed, affecting 240 students, according to High School Principal Mike Devoll.

School Committee member Heather Burke believes the lack of funding would have a devastating impact on the school and towns.

“This type of budget would kick off a death spiral of our school. It would gut it. With that would go housing prices, community involvement. All sorts of dire community ills would start to flood in,” she said. “If this is what town leaders are proposing, then I think the communities need to evaluate in whom they put their trust.”

Vice Chair Cheryl Hebert emphasized that the proposed budget was not “superfluous.” “It’s definitely very reality based,” she said.

Patrick Spencer, the business administrator for tri-town schools, said the towns are also working within the reality of their own budgets.

“I don’t think it’s a vindictive thing or anything of that nature,” he said.

Another “level service” budget is on the table and sits between the other two options. With an increase of $704,516, the budget would not see a loss in faculty, but technology upgrades would still be a no-go and the art position would continue to be part time.

That budget could be achievable by adding more school choice students. In recent years, ORR has reduced its school choice numbers. The program allows non-residents to attend the school. Each school can choose if and how many slots to open and then conducts a lottery to select applicants. The state pays the school $5,000 per student; however, in accepting a student, ORR is responsible to care for the students' special needs as well. That can get pricey if students need one on one help or other support.

ORR has 68 school choice students, 20 of whom will graduate this year. Brogioli said he’s looking at a drop in his seventh grade class next fall from 245 to 211, so he can accommodate a maximum of 30 school choice students. Devoll also said there will be room at the high school and that he welcomes school choice students as long as he doesn’t have a reduction in faculty.

“We could take in thirty to thirty-five more kids provided we have the same staffing,” he said. “If we’re making cuts, I don’t have room for those students.”

After some discussion, the School Committee voted unanimously to cap the number of students school choice students at 125. ORR does not have to accept that many students, and the committee indicated that it would not likely try to fill all of those slots.

Rood stressed that the solution is not “optimal” and encouraged the public to speak to their local leaders about school funding.

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