After avoiding override, school district plans to slash budget increase

Feb 12, 2024

After spending December mulling the possibility of an override, the School Committee voted Jan. 8 to use its “school choice” funds to bridge the town’s budget shortfall, an estimated $1.5 million decision. 

However, that decision may become superfluous — at the Feb. 12 School Committee meeting, Assistant Superintendent James Kiely said the district will try to get the budget down to just a 3 percent increase, rather than the 6 percent increase that was originally suggested. 

Shaving the budget down to a 3 percent increase would roughly eliminate the entire budget gap presented at prior meetings.

Kiely won’t present the reduced budget itself until March 11, but he said the decision comes from a desire to be cautious about the district’s spending and consider the long-term implications of funding the entire $1.5 million out of school choice funds. 

The update was met with some confusion from the board. 

“Ok so now I’m totally confused,” said School Committee member John Nunes. “What has changed? I’m missing something here.”

Nunes is not missing anything, Kiely said — rather, there were items in the original budget proposal that “were then added back into the budget” when looking at a prospective override. 

School Committee member Shannon Jenkins said the committee needs to be “careful” in presenting a now-reduced budget to the public. 

“It now looks like we asked for $1.5 million and we didn’t get it and now we’re like ‘Oh, well actually we don’t quite need $1.5 million,” Jenkins said. “I think as we make choices about what’s coming back out of the budget, we need to be really clear about what the implications are.”

Asked by School Committee Vice Chair Chris Oliver whether the district plans to hand out pink slips, Kiely said they would attempt to make reductions based on “attrition,” which refers to a deliberate policy of not replacing certain staff members that leave. 

“However, it’s not necessarily true that that will be the overall solution,” Kiely said. The assistant superintendent said the details of the new budget will all be made clear and “transparent” at the March 11 meeting. 

“We still need to do our due diligence in terms of looking critically at our operation,” Kiely said. “The long term future of our budget — I don’t think it makes sense to fund all $1.525 million of what was on the table.”

Oliver suggested convening a meeting of the School Committee Budget Subcommittee, which Kiely agreed to. 

After Kiely presents the reduced budget on March 11, the School Committee will hold a proposed budget hearing on March 25 and finally vote on the budget on April 8.