HANSON — Meeting an hour before the W-H School Committee on Thursday, March 12, a quorum of the Hanson Selectmen — Chairman Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett, Vice Chairman Kenny Mitchell and Jim Hickey — met with Finance Committee Chairman Kevin Sullivan for a discussion of the school budget.
“They’ve decided on the methodology of the budget, which thus far has been voted into by statutory [assessment], and tonight, they will be lowering the boom on the budget,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said. The School Committee, instead, put off that decision at least until this week.[See related story, page 1]
“This isn’t just a Hanson problem, it’s a school problem, it’s a district problem, it’s a Whitman problem and it’s a Hanson problem,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said. “This can’t be just Hanson solving this problem.”
She told School Committee Chairman Bob Hayes that, in the spirit of partnership, Hanson officials would appreciate the schools bringing their budget “as far down as you can.”
One question FitzGerald-Kemmett had centered on why $117,000 for technology upgrades that Hanson, as did Whitman, budget as a capital expense was also included in the school budget.
Town Administrator John Stanbrook broke the school budget options into three scenarios — the first, simply the required budget increases Hanson’s assessment by 21.49 percent; the second, which also adds $280,000 to return four elementary teachers cut last year, increases it by 22.58 percent or $2.3 million; if the town also had a level-service budget is a 3.5 percent increase on the town or $1.83 million.
Based on FY ’20 assessment values of $1.29 per thousand, the average annual tax increase for a single-family home [$334,368] would have been $457 if an override had been done last year. Scenario 2 would put the increase at between $630 and $640.
Sullivan said his committee has been working under the idea that the required budget, aimed at providing level-service spending to the schools for fiscal 2021, would be the number with which it would have to contend. Hanson would have to come up with $1.87 million under a statutory assessment formula.
The town is already about $300,000 in the hole with a 4.5 percent budget increase for the town.
“We’ve earmarked some places, already, where we believe the first round of cuts ought to go,” Sullivan said. “We’re looking at every and all options that are on the table.”
Among the scenarios the Finance Committee is considering is a 10-percent reduction across all town departments. With the exception of the library, the town had added back all the positions cut 10 years ago during the recession.
“Our goal is to get this number down to a reasonable level where we would have to present an override to the town,” Sullivan said. “No one likes that override word, but it’s a matter of how much can we cut out of the budget to get it down to a reasonable level?”
Mitchell agreed that the town needs to start thinking that way.
“The only way to get by this [next year] is to increase the tax rate,” Sullivan said.
A Finance Committee member since 2012, Sullivan said he has not seen a deficit close to being this large that the town has had to overcome.
Mitchell also suggested a mediator might help resolve the issue between the two towns.
“Well that is a controversial little theory, there, Mr. Mitchell, and I like it,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said.
FitzGerald-Kemmett said she was hoping the School Committee would recognize that the situation is not Hanson’s problem alone to solve. She said she personally does not favor an override, but that is a question for voters to decide.
The coronavirus may also have an impact, as FitzGerald-Kemmett said there has been some discussion of postponing town meetings. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has already waived the 180-day school year requirement.
“The School Committee meeting tonight, if it wasn’t an important meeting, I probably would have canceled,” said Hayes, who attended the Selectmen’s meeting.