Superintendent: Groton schools have reached day of financial reckoning

Groton - After three years without a school budget increase, interim Superintendent John Ramos on Monday said "we have reached the proverbial fiscal cliff."

Citing a $4.02 million jump in fixed costs, Ramos told the school board it would take $76.6 million, 5.5 percent more than this year's $72.6 million budget, to maintain the current level of services and programming.

A large portion of the jump is attributed to $1 million in employee raises, a $928,308 projected rise in health insurance costs and $666,381 in transportation costs associated with redistricting.

The spending plan also accounts for drops in federal funding which helped to avoid budget increases during the past three years.

"That money has now dried up. It's gone," Ramos said. "In order to move forward we have to make qualitative decisions."

With the school board expected to try and get as close to this year's budget as possible, Ramos presented a grim scenario outlining proposals to close the gap.

Doing so would result in a host of cuts to staff and programs - the loss of more than a dozen teachers and 50 paraprofessionals along with cuts to custodial and secretarial staff.

Ramos had come up with the evolving plan after going to school leaders and asking them "under duress" to propose possible cuts.

Other ideas for cuts were discussed, but ruled out. A pay-to-play program would yield little money, Ramos said, since 46 percent of students are in the free or reduced lunch program and would be eliminated from the pay-to-play program. The system could also save $100,000 by ending transportation for out-of-district magnet school students, something not required by law.

That idea, like others, is off the table for the time being.

In all, Ramos passed out a list that would whittle costs by $4.8 million but also cause serious hardships across the school system.

"This is our problem," Ramos said. "The effort is to try and work together. We have a goal to try and provide the best services we can to the students we serve. We're trying our best to work together under some trying circumstances."

The school board plans to start discussing the proposal at their next meeting.

g.smith@theday.com

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