Town may ask Schools to trim $1.6m (Can you say 40 kids/class?)

The latest news from Wednesday’s Warrant Committee meeting isn’t good, according to reports from those who were there. While we won’t get into the nitty gritty of the meeting itself (most of which appears to have revolved around how to spend the Town’s dwindling pile of free cash), the broad outlines should be enough to make Belmont parents sit up and take notice:

Based on figures by the Town Accountant, the School Committee and Superintendent Peter Holland will be asked to trim the School Department’s proposed budget by $1,619,228 for the 2009 school year. According to back of the envelope calculations that would translate into the following:

+ Layoffs of approximately 18 full time instructors

+ Class sizes of 35 students or more in some grades (such as 5th, where an especially large class size has prompted calls for an additional instructor just to keep class sizes at 25)

+ No full day kindergarten — even with State grants to offset 60% or more of the cost to implement and offer it.

+ Little or no town funding of extracurriculars. Just to spell it out: that means that parents would bear the entire cost of sports as “user fees” — perhaps as much as $800 per family. Hey — we’d have the most well heeled teams in the Bay State!

+ Deep cuts to or elimination of music and arts education.

+ Etc. etc.

The story is just as bad on the Town side of things (Schools and Town essentially split the town’s revenue), where departments will be asked to come up with savings of more than $1m from a level service budget. The only way to put that money back into the budget is for the Town to approve an operational override for 2009. And that’s something that our Selectmen, up till now, have staunchly opposed. Making matters worse, the Warrant Committee seems to have its nose to the pavement, by which I mean, they’re focused on winning an override for road reconstruction in 2009. The Board of Selectmen has already signaled their support for that override, and will be deciding whether to put it to an April ballot in the coming weeks.

What does this mean? If you support the schools, you have to turn out to the March 1, 2008 meeting (9:00AM at the Chenery) of the Seletmen, Warrant Committee and School Committee. The agenda (courtesy of Ann Rittenburg) is as follows:

9:00 Human Resource Department Budget Hearing
9:15 Minuteman Regional High School Budget Hearing
10:00 Belmont Public Schools Budget Hearing
12:00 Revenue Discussion
12:30 Roads Stabilization Fund Override Discussion (likely to include a vote by the 3 selectmen about whether or not to place the roads override on the April 7th Annual Town Election ballot.
Right now we’re trying to organize parents to come out to the March 1 meeting and show their support for the schools in other ways. E-mail me if you’re interested in helping out with the push to maintain Belmont’s educational excellence!