Groton Town Council leaves school board's budget intact

Groton - The Board of Education's budget request survived the scrutiny of the Town Council unscathed on Thursday.

The council voted unanimously to move along the school board's $73.66 million request for fiscal year 2013-14. The budget proposal is a $1.02 million, or 1.4 percent, increase over the current budget, the first increase in the past four years.

The school board budget represents more than 60 percent of the town's entire $121.6 million budget proposal. It has yet to go to the Representative Town Meeting for approval.

In a year marked by declining revenues, a $1 million hike in school employee salaries and increased insurance and transportation costs due to redistricting, Interim Superintendent John Ramos said the school board was forced to make difficult decisions.

Ramos said it would have taken a more than $4 million increase to sustain current services and programs.

The school board made cuts that include the loss of 50 paraprofessionals. The board also expects to shed a dozen staff positions through retirements and layoffs.

Initially on the chopping block was $100,000 for transportation for out-of-district magnet school students, money reimbursed to the town by the state. School board Chairwoman Kirsten Hoyt announced Thursday the money was reinstated thanks to a recently negotiated savings in the school district's busing contract.

Councilors, who have the power to cut the bottom line but not individual expenditures of the school board, questioned some of the board's moves, including what Councilor Karen Morton called a disproportionate cut to faculty versus administration.

Council member Bruce Flax wondered about the impact of the loss of so many paraprofessionals.

Councilor Bill Johnson questioned the $300,000 budgeted for legal services for the upcoming year.

In all, Ramos said the school board went about cuts with the mindset of "What do we think we need, and what can we survive without?"

Mayor Heather Bond Somers compared the board's budget trimming to what the council has been doing to various departments during this month's series of budget sessions. She said the various departments "are going to have to find a way to hold it together."

The council meets again at 9 a.m. Saturday.


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