Preston residents urged to OK $10.85M budget

Preston - Residents briefly discussed the $342,090 cut made to the original proposed Board of Education budget at Thursday's town meeting, but even those who think the cut was too deep urged residents to approve the budget at the June 10 referendum.

Residents soundly rejected the first proposed $11.2 million school budget at a May 1 referendum, and the Board of Finance a week later cut the proposed budget to $10.85 million, a 2.1 percent increase.

Superintendent John Welch told about 60 residents at Thursday's town meeting that the cut effectively would end this year's effort to add universal preschool to the elementary school - the most controversial item throughout the spring budget discussion season - and also would eliminate new teaching assistants in the two kindergarten classes.

Voters approved the $3.3 million town government budget on May 13, so only the school budget and advisory questions asking voters if they think the budget is too high or too low will be on the June 10 ballot.

Although the tax rate will not be set until after a final budget is approved, the projected tax rate would go down next year, from the current 23.7 mills to 23.18 mills, if the proposed $10.85 million school budget is approved.

Resident, parent and teacher Susan Strader questioned why the Board of Finance made such a deep cut in the proposed budget. She called the cut "outrageous" and said smaller cuts might have been acceptable. She said the town would pay for the lack of funding to education over the years, pointing out that the town flat-funded the school budget for five consecutive years before last year.

But Strader urged residents to approve the budget and to answer the accompanying advisory question on whether they think the budget is too high or too low. She said voting down the $10.85 million budget at this point would only drag the budget process out through the summer.

Board of Finance member David Cannon said he was "torn" because he felt the cut was too much. But he said others on the board still considered it an increase over the current school budget.

Voters couldn't add to the budget at Thursday's town meeting, but they did vote to once again extend the June 10 referendum voting hours to run from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Board of Education Chairwoman Jan Clancy said 220 people voted between 6 a.m. and noon on May 13, a significant portion of the 573 voters who cast ballots on the school budget.

c.bessette@theday.com

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