East Bridgewater is moving forward with several capital projects, new town-wide technology initiatives, and a $17 million school budget after gaining Monday night’s Town Meeting approval.
The night began with the 13 articles for Special Town Meeting. The first 12 were approved with little or no discussion.
Article 13 asked the town to approve a transfer of $604,000 from Free Cash to cover the school’s deficit for fiscal 2014.
Superintendent of Schools John Moretti said he became aware of the deficit back in August 2013 after an audit he performed due to the School Committee’s request.
Moretti added that he informed the Finance Committee of the deficit at that time. “We could have made some corrections but it would’ve caused chaos in the system,” he said, “We really didn’t have much of a recourse.”
Items included in the deficit include $295,000 for SPED Transportation, electricity and gas expenses at all three schools in town, maintenance issues and more.
Despite disagreement and frustration with the deficit, the town did approve the transfer.
“It’s pay it now or pay it later,” George Samia, Town Administrator said.
Jennifer Kitchenham, School Committee member, said the Committee has been making an effort to work with the Board of Selectmen and the Finance Committee to come up with long-term solutions for the budget.
” [We should] continue to meet with them so that we don’t get into the situation we were in,” Kitchenham said.
However, Moretti said the $17,048,893 school operating budget approved for fiscal 2015 is one that they can and will “live with and under.”
“It’s an amount the town can afford,” Board of Selectmen Chair Martin Crowley said.
In order to meet the budget, Moretti said 20 total personnel cuts have been made, 12 teachers and 8 instructional assistants. With the approval of the budget, no additional cuts are necessary.
“I can’t project the future, but things that we can control, we will control,” Moretti said, “We could bring those positions back anytime between now and August.”
Some of the positions eliminated are in Kindergarten, Art, Instrumental Music, First and Second Grade, and Middle School Guidance.
With these cuts, average class sizes will be 21 for Kindergarten, 22 for First Grade, 24 for Second Grade, and 25-27 for grades 3-6.
Parents are very concerned with the elimination of Art, Instrumental Music, and a Guidance Counselor.
“We had to make cuts,” Kitchenham said. She added that she knows the cuts are devastating.
Moretti added that there are currently several initiatives in the works that may allow the town to bring back some of the cut positions.
Moretti also pointed out that he has used about 90% of the “revenue generators” for the schools – full-day Kindergarten, before and after school care, the food service program and tuition paid to the schools – to get to the budgeted number.
He added that ideally, 50% of the revenue generators should be reserved for potential deficits.
“This past year has been an absolute nightmare,” Moretti said.
Moretti and the School Committee hope that working with the town, they will be able to get the school budget on the right track financially.
Other articles approved at Town Meeting include the $44.2 million operating budget in its entirety, $775,000 to replace the Walnut St. water mains, and $235,000 for a new ambulance per the Fire Chief’s request.