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School-budget number of $57.1M spurs concern, 5-2 vote

Proposed budget discussed at School Committee Feb. 11; show up and comment: documents here >>

UPDATED, Feb. 5: The School Committee has voted to accept the bottom-line budget proposal for next year for the schools -- $57,133,000 -- but only after lengthy discussion and a 5-2 ballot. Voting "no" were Bill Hayner and Chairman Paul Schlichtman.

School Committee logo

The number for the fiscal 2017 school budget comes from the town manager, and the back-and-forth about it Thursday, Jan. 28, indicated dissatisfaction.

In his budget message, manager Adam Chapdelaine says: "... this recommendation holds the potential to provide a near historic funding increase to the School Department."
This big-picture view did not forestall school complaints. "Arlington High gets hit real hard in this budget," Hayner said, adding that cuts to special education draw his concern. "The cuts shouldn’t all come from our side of the street."

Impact of voting aired

Schlichtman said cuts to English language learners concern him. "Those kids need advocates," he said.

After Superintendent Kathleen Bodie reported the amount of money that they manager recommends for schools, $57.1 million, Hayner asked for direction: "How should we vote tonight? Does this lock us in?"

Quote bar, redKEY BUDGET DOCUMENTSFiscal 2017 school-budget documents discussed Jan. 28 are here >>
Clicking on each downloads it to your computer:
-- FY 17 Budget Original Ask List 12 18/2015
-- Revised FY 15 Budget actuals
-- FY 17 Hard Line Cut 1 21 2016
-- FY 17 Color Coded Budget

Bodie responded, "You would be accepting the number."

Hayner wondered, "What happens if we don’t accept it?"

Bodie did not address that directly. "This is the number," she said. "It is what would seem to be a reasonable going forward."

She added that, at some point, "We would be going to voters for an override [in connection with] the high school."

Hayner continued: "By voting tonight, those meetings with parents [about enrollment and other issues] are fairly hollow." He called it "an act of futility."

Asked about whether changes could be made later to the bottom-line school-budget number, Bodie said it could shift upward if the Finance Committee recommends more to Town Meeting.

Member Jeff Thielman made a motion to accept this allotment from the town. He amended his motion to "acknowledge" the amount. Then the committee discussed the shape the budget had taken.

Through recited a number of cuts, including those for the structured learning center at Ottoson, as well as in elementary grades.

In essence, administrators responded that the reductions mean more work for fewer staffers and larger class sizes.

Member Kirsi Allison-Ampe favored continuing to talk to parents. She said the committee needs to know whether "their thinking is in line with our desires."

Member Cindy Starks commented: "It's heart-wrenching the stuff that we can't do," yet she appeared to be ready to accept the situation and was among those voting "yes."

Member Jennifer Susse noted how constrained both the schools are town are year after year. "We need a conversation about what we want our town to look like," she said. "We need to go to the voters and ask: 'What do we want?'"

In response to a follow-up question Feb. 1, she said the public conversation about the type of schools we want to have and are willing to pay for would occur, in part, when we go to the voters for debt exclusions/overrides.

Before the local budget, the state ...

As a preamble to local budget discussion, Schlichtman noted the small increase in state Chapter 70 funds coming to Arlington and unloaded most of his ammunition on Governor Baker's budget.

He said he had complained directly to Baker's office that day.

The state spending plan "puts us in a peculiar position," he said. "We have our reps behind us. We had a recommendation for change from the Foundation Budget Review Commission.

"Now we have governor the foundation rather than increasing it .... It's totally unjustifiable."

He urged the public to make three phone calls -- one each to Baker, Rep. Sean Garballey and Rep. Dave Rogers -- and "complain about disinvestment" in Arlington. "It's egregious. The state has taken away our ability to raise revenues."

Opinion, Jan. 20, 2016: A look at the manager's preliminary budget, overrides 

Jan. 19, 2016: Town increases budget share for schools, but there's room for more

Dec. 30, 2015: School Committee pushes back on shifting budget formula

March 30, 2015: Schools appeal for changes in foundation budget

This summary was published Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016m and updated Feb.5, to add a link.

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