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Groton - Representative Town Meeting on Wednesday approved a $73.6 million education budget for the coming fiscal year which cuts 80 positions but still represents a 1.4 percent increase over the current year's spending.
The cuts, which were approved by the Board of Education and went through the Town Council, include 50 paraprofessionals, 14 teachers and other staff.
The RTM voted 28-7, with one member abstaining, to support the school budget as proposed.
"People don't move to a town with poor schools," member Archie Swindell said. He said if Groton wants to attract business, maintaining the quality of education is important.
He called losing the paraprofessionals "a tragedy" but said the district's ability to cut elsewhere is limited. Swindell, a former chairman of the RTM education committee, said Groton is hampered by state requirements and union demands.
For example, he said teacher salaries are higher than those in the private sector, but unions don't allow those salaries to decline.
"It's a one-way street," he said. "You only can go up. You can never go down."
Interim Superintendent John Ramos said the school district and board came up with the budget after "tremendous thought" about what taxpayers are enduring and what children need.
"There will be a loss of quality of the system by virtue of the fact that we're losing 80 people and the corresponding programs and services," Ramos said. "That's just a fact."
Others argued the budget should have been cut further.
Member Genevieve Cerf said teacher unions are holding the district "hostage" to their demands and must be stopped.
"I think we need to start to draw the line," she said. Cerf said the only tool the district has is to cut payroll, but perhaps that would get the attention of the union.
Member Rosanne Kotowski pointed out that Groton schools were able to come up with hundreds of thousands of dollars to cover legal fees and pay two superintendents after the former superintendent was placed on administrative leave last spring. Former Superintendent Paul Kadri was fired in March.
Two motions to cut the budget further failed by votes of 11-25 and 9-27.