Uncertain about the state budget, possible “strings” on the federal stimulus funds, negotiations with unions still in progress and the uncertainty of an override being put on the ballot and approved, Sudbury Public School administrators and the School Committee are discussing the possibly of cutting $708,000 to close the budget gap.
Gov. Deval Patrick’s promise of $139,094 for the Sudbury schools as part of the federal stimulus money may help close the shortfall, but the town has to exercise caution not knowing whether the Legislature would agree with the governor’s plan and whether state education aid would replace the federal funds once the stimulus expires.
“We are not sure of the final state budget, which could impact the amount of the stimulus money that would be coming from this stabilization fund source,” said Sudbury School Superintendent John Brackett. “There is still some uncertainty about how much we will get and when that will be finally determined.”
The proposed cut of $708,000, though uncertain, would include 12 FTEs, 7.5 of whom are teachers – four elementary and two middle school classroom teachers as well as 1.5 curriculum specialists.
“The $708,000 is the simple result of a non-override budget, based on revenues being projected and taking our current program and rolling it up,” said Brackett.
Once the appropriation is known, the School Committee will adopt the final budget.
“The biggest issue here is if this comes to pass, we are going to be doing it on top of $1 million in cuts this year with 22 people,” said Brackett.
“The cuts get deeper and broader in terms of those who are effected,” he added. “The way we approached this is that we are looking at it from the perspective that it will probably be pretty broad in terms of those programs that are impacted. We are also trying to – to the extent possible – keep our core programs in place. The expectation for quality education continues and we are going to continue delivering quality education.”
Sudbury Public School candidate Tammie Rhodes Dufault thinks the communication is premature.
“Communication on budget cuts should be held until contract negotiations are final,” she said.
Brackett said no decision has been made.
“We are in the process of talking and coming up with plans that identify how to cut the budget,” he said. “The school committee will keep working on this until after Town Meeting. We will not be certain until after Town Meeting.”
Within the 12 FTE cuts, reductions also include: clerical support, a principal or assistant principal and a custodian position.
In addition to staff reductions, proposed cuts on the expense side include technology equipment and professional development.
That overall plan results is close to the objective of $708,000.
“In addition to that, there are still other things we are examining that we may include in the final plan as we go forward,” said Brackett.
Going forward, the school committee will also examine the impact of the cuts.
“Do we reduce some of the counseling services at the elementary schools and do we restructure the middle schools so there are fewer unified arts classes available to students,” said the superintendent.
Another discussion is the possibly of cutting the number of languages taught in the middle school to one, rather than the two it now has in French and Spanish.
The committee is also looking at library staffing.
“There is a librarian and assistant at each of the five libraries,” said Brackett. “Can we continue to staff at that level or can we change our library structure? Any cuts with library staffing would mean library availability would be affected.
“None of these are things we want to do and each one has an impact in schools and the classrooms for kids, but some are more visible in terms of its impact,” the superintendent added. “We are not approaching this as a one-year problem. At best this is a two-year problem.”
Because of the impact of the cuts, the school committee is trying not to be too specific until it has to.
“We recognize every one of our employees is making a great contribution and we don’t want to take the wind out of their sails,” said Brackett. “We are notifying folks and letting people know the kinds of reductions we are looking at.”