Few attend Groton school budget hearing

Groton — Last week, the Groton Board of Education took a vote regarding funding in the 2018-19 budget. On Tuesday, it held a public hearing on the spending plan.

The budget is still a work in progress, but as of Tuesday evening, it was $78,755,470, an increase of nearly 3 percent over the current budget. The board hopes to get the increase closer to 2 percent.

Superintendent Michael Graner and board Chairwoman Kim Shepardson Watson outlined the spending plan at the hearing, which was held at the Groton Senior Center on Tuesday evening.

Town Council member Lian Obrey lamented, “I’m just amazed there’s so few people here tonight. I just can’t believe it.”

She was one of about 20 attendees, not including board members and district staff, and one of eight to offer comments.

Of the $2,287,231 increase in the budget, $2,063,380 is just for benefits due to skyrocketing health insurance claims.

Benefits are one of eight budget categories, along with salaries, purchased services, property services, transportation/insurance/communications/tuitions, supplies, equipment and dues and fees. Compared to the current fiscal year, the 2018-19 budget decreases funding for property services, supplies, equipment and dues and fees.

Graner explained that the decreased equipment cost has come from postponing the purchase of a truck and some cleaning equipment. But the board has earmarked a Department of Defense grant — usually about $250,000 — for equipment.

The school district received about $5.3 million in grants revenue for the current year, including $1.26 million for Title I-IV grants, a $1.13 million federal special education grant, $1.03 million for magnet school assistance and $600,000 in Alliance District funding.

Former town Mayor Bruce Flax expressed hope that the district will continue looking to the city and the town for efficiencies, noting that there is duplication in technology and in buildings and grounds.

Mike Whitney said he thinks people will get behind the budget as long as the district clearly shows how various line items are tied to student success.

“If you want good teachers, if you want good staff, you have to compete with the areas around us,” he added. “We don’t want to advocate extravagance or anything like that, but as long as it’s couched in pragmatically trying to improve the education in Groton.”

Andrew Mierta gave a personal account, saying he could “use a lot of four-letter words to describe my home life” growing up, but that teachers made all the difference. He said they allowed him to grow up to make a good salary and pay taxes, and so he wants his tax money put back into educational opportunities.

Portia Bordelon stressed the need for remedial support and questioned the line items for administrative travel and conferences, asking where administrators are going.

Several of the concerns raised have already been — and will continue to be — discussions among the board at its budget workshops. 

The budget workshop held after the public hearing Tuesday night was the board’s fifth in January. It will hold three more workshops on the budget in February and then vote.

The budget will go to Town Manager John Burt on Feb. 26, to the Town Council in April and to the Representative Town Meeting in May.

e.moser@theday.com

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