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    Sunday, June 23, 2024

    Groton school board approves budget with 7.9% increase

    Groton ― The Board of Education approved a proposed budget of $87.9 million for 2024-25 that shows a 7.9% increase over the current budget.

    The board approved its budget before Wednesday’s deadline to submit the plan to the town manager. The board plans to continue to review the budget and recommend additional savings or adjustments.

    Superintendent of Schools Susan Austin had proposed a $92.4 million budget, which represented a 13.4% increase, as the district next year faces increases in health insurance, transportation, and wages, as well as state mandates and the end of federal coronavirus relief funds used to hire staff, including tutors.

    The school board has been reviewing potential reductions to that proposal. In recent budget workshops, the board rejected cuts to summer school and adult education funding, while adding funding for upgraded budget software and to support the state-mandated literacy curriculum.

    While the budget originally included funding for positions added with COVID-19 relief funding that expires at the end of the school fiscal year, Austin said that after hearing from the Town Council, Representative Town Meeting and Board of Education members, school officials realized it “needs to sunset” the spending.

    She said the district is returning to pre-COVID-19 service levels, as it faces many increases, including inflation, the bus contract, and wages.

    “It was like a perfect storm this year, so we know that our town can’t take all that on so we tried to make decisions that would be continuing the good work that Groton has done,” including in instruction, curriculum, resources to students, athletics, extracurricular activities, and music, said Austin.

    Board of Education member Jenn White said she appreciated that the $2.2 million associated with the expiring COVID funding was removed and that the board is following through with its commitment to the community.

    Austin said there is funding for about 30 tutors through the operating budget and other grants.

    Austin said the overall reduction of staffing for next year is dependent on the final budget.

    The vote to approve the budget was was 7-1, with member Ian Thomas voting no in protest of the budget process and procedure. Dean Antipas was absent.

    Board of Education member Adrian Johnson said he agreed with the budget total, but he is upset with the number of reduced staffing positions.

    “I look forward to more discussion and hopefully bringing some of those positions back,” Johnson said.

    A public hearing on the town’s overall proposed budget, including the education budget, will be held at 6 p.m. March 27 at the Thrive 55+ Active Living Center and virtually. The Town Council is slated to review the education budget at 6 p.m. April 16 at the Town Hall Annex, Community Room 1, and virtually.

    Board of Education Chairman Jay Weitlauf said the schedule will allow the board more time to find savings and hear updates on state and federal funding. Weitlauf said “there are various ways on which this budget is built on shifting sands.”

    k.drelich@theday.com

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