The School Committee has reduced the proposed fiscal 2022 budget by $775,000, lowering assessments to the towns, as well.
The committee voted 7-2-1 on Wednesday, April 14 — with members Dawn Byers and David Forth voting against and Steve Bois abstaining — to rescind the March 17 vote. He then moved that they set the fiscal 2022 school district, and setting it to $56,797, 579.40 — a 2.6 percent increase of the budget. Hanson’s assessment would be $12,646,117.72 and Whitman’s would be $16,104,903.22.
The reduction of $775,000 from the March 17 budget was proposed to come from federal funds.
The new budget figure was passed, 8-2 with Byers and Forth voting no. The new assessments were passed by identical votes, after a vote rejected Byers’ proposal to table the issue for a legal opinion on procedure.
“I think the budget we put forth through the School Committee supports the mission of our school, supports what we need for our kids for next year,’ Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Szymaniak said April 6. “But I also feel it’s my job as the CEO and CFO, so to speak, of the district to say I’m going to be sitting on a little over $2 million of federal stimulus money.”
While he said he doesn’t have a specific number yet, but has been told it is more than two times the $1 million in ESSER II COVID funds.
The revised plan presented by Szymaniak at the April 6 meeting that failed to pass by a 8-1-1 vote.
Committee member Christopher Scriven, who had been absent on April 6 made the three motions covering the revised budget total and assessments to each town.
“To be honest, it sounds somewhat scripted,” Byers said of Scriven’s motion, adding that she hadn’t seen an agenda before Monday. “Somebody on the committee knew that budget discussion was coming up last Thursday. That’s concerning to me.”
Member Fred Small said he had planned to bring it up, since the budget has been on the agenda at every meeting.
“We don’t have an approved budget, how on earth would it not be mentioned?” said member Mike Jones, attending remotely.
“We have an approved budget,” said Byers and Bois, who had been on opposite sides of the April 6 vote.
“Since I’ve been on the committee we’ve changed the budget repeatedly,” member Christopher Howard said, noting he was trying to figure out what they could do without arguing what they should do.
“I don’t know what the hurry is to reduce the budget to balance a town’s municipal budget,” Byers said.
She made a motion to call legal counsel to get a recommendation on the propriety of Scriven’s motion, as it had originally been an amendment — taken back and changed to a motion to rescind after at least three guides to parliamentary procedure had been consulted.
“We’re just getting tied in the pretzel of how can we have the conversation about the budget because that’s just what we’ve always done,” Howard said when a second motion by Byers to table the budget vote was added to the discussion. “I don’t think we should ever be caught up in the technicalities and not being able to have a conversation about where we’re at and what we’re looking to do.”
Byers argued for tabling the budget vote for legal advice because “reducing the budget and using one-time funds is a patchwork solution.”
Committee member Fred Small asked where the money was supposed to come from.
“It’s great to get on a soapbox, and it’s great to say, ‘Hey, we need more money…’ was there some things that happened years back? Yes. But we can’t go back in time. … We need to deal with realities today.”
“The town should not be cutting an approved budget by using the ESSER funding to kind of cover the spread,” said Brendan Griffin of Temple Street in Whitman, speaking during the public comment period of the meeting. “That funding should be treated as the supplement it is, and spent on pandemic-related expenses and support for both known and unknown needs that the kids will undoubtedly face.”
He said using it to cover special education teachers seems a bit off-base and a little reckless.
Scriven said it is time to look at things from a team perspective.
Byers said she appreciated the long-term team approach.
Business Manager John Tuffy said the fiscal 2021 budget was 73-percent expended by the end of March, compared with 76 percent at the same point in fiscal 2020. He also mentioned a rash of fraudulent unemployment claims, dealt with by many districts victimized by online scammers during the early days of the pandemic, are being worked out by the state and refunds are starting to come back to the district, but that the numbers are still “a little squishy” right now.
“These past few days, I’ve been feeling a mix of emotions,” said junior Anna Flynn, who serves as the student government representative to the School Committee, during her regular student update. “I’ve been happy, yet fearful. I’ve been excited, yet dreadful.”
She said it is difficult to concentrate on schoolwork while “cramped into” classrooms with classmates not seen in a year, and dreading being or faced with being called to the nurse’s office “any second.”
Flynn said her fellow students are exhausted, and she expressed heartbreak that there is no junior prom this year, and that traditions such as homecoming and rally had been canceled.
“I’ve never seen my classmates so anxious and burned out in my entire school career,” she said, noting that they are also nervous about the reduced social distancing guidelines in a school full of people.
She said she and several of her classmates have decided to switch to full remote for the remainder of the school year.
“We decided to take the safe route, rather than risk being in close contact and catching the COVID-19 virus,” she said. But she added that she was “exhilarated” by how serious W-H is taking the close contact situation.
“Even though it can be a very stressful process, I’m glad to have my school take proper precautions and try their best to prevent the spread of the virus during the transition of returning to school full time.”