Groton RTM approves restoration of some school funding

Groton — The Representative Town Meeting, which needed a two-thirds vote to approve funding beyond what the Town Council supported, voted 25-6 late Thursday night to approve an education budget of $74.9 million for the coming fiscal year.

The council had approved about $74.7 million in school funding.

“I’m just so pleased,” Superintendent Michael Graner said after the vote. “Because there are a couple of teachers that would be extremely difficult to add, even if we get (more) money in August. This will allow us to put a final school budget together and to settle our staffing plan before school lets out. So it was a modest increase, but a very important increase for the schools.”

Multiple attempts to pass budgets with greater school spending failed to achieve the two-thirds vote needed to pass. The final education budget approved by the RTM is about $1.56 million below this year's spending, or a decline of about 2 percent.

The decision means that Pleasant Valley Elementary School still would be closed. Three administrators, 27 teachers, 10 paraprofessionals and a maintenance worker would have their jobs eliminated. School site budgets, used to buy supplies and materials, would be cut 15 percent, and elementary school field trips would be eliminated unless the school board cuts elsewhere or receives additional money.

Graner said he would recommend that funding be used to save two high school teaching positions, because the high school schedule must be determined now and could not be changed later. The school board would have the final say, however.

Middle school sports and funding for student testing in advanced classes has been restored. The school district also will be able to avoid using a pay-to-play system for athletics at Robert E. Fitch High School.

RTM members said they received emails, phone calls and post cards from parents in the weeks leading up to the vote.

“Not one parent wrote that there were too many teachers, too many books or computers, or too many activities and too many electives,” said Kathleen Neugent, chairwoman of the RTM Education Committee. “I also heard that some may not stay in Groton if the schools are underfunded.”

Nearly everyone who contacted RTM member Thomas Frickman told him to increase the school budget, he said. “My job is to represent the people,” he said.

Member Gary Welles said military families need good schools for their children. “I’m not saying it’s your patriotic duty, but it is,” he said.

But others argued that the school budget has continually increased despite declining enrollment.

“At what point is enough, enough? When the Board of Education budget is $100 million, 200 million?” asked RTM member Brandon Marley.

d.straszheim@theday.com

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