GROTON -- The Groton-Dunstable School Committee voted Thursday, April 24, to eliminate a human-resource position as it works to narrow a shortfall in its fiscal 2015 budget.
Members voted 5-1, with Tom Steinfeld in opposition and James Frey absent, to approve a proposal by administrators to eliminate the position of human-resource director and parcel out the work to other administrators and possibly contractors.
Administrators said the plan would save $69,000 annually.
The vote came after board members listened to savings suggestions from Superintendent of Schools Anthony Bent, incoming Superintendent Kristan Rodriguez and Director of Business and Finance Jared Stanton at a special work session.
Bent and Rodriguez worked up the proposal, but also suggested bolstering the pay scales of other positions to make them more attractive in the professional marketplace.
The human-resource director position is now held by Jeanne Mitchell.
The proposed cut comes as a result of an imbalance in the district's books that has left administrators scrambling to make up what began as $2.7 million shortfall for fiscal 2015, which begins July 1.
Previous cuts by the School Committee lowered it to $1.9 million, after which members turned to the towns of Groton and Dunstable for help.
In Groton, Town Manager Mark Haddad managed to win public approval for removing payment of a new Center Fire Station from the tax levy to a debt exclusion, thus freeing up the cash to cover its share of the outstanding shortfall.
But in Dunstable, town officials said they did not have the resources to cover the entire amount they owed. Consequently, they have asked the district if it could make more spending cuts to help reduce local assessments.
Besides the savings, Bent and Rodriguez's proposal also included an increase in salary for a pair of top administrative positions including director of business and finance from $100,000 to $105,000 and assistant superintendent from $105,000 to $120,000.
The increase for the assistant superintendent was seen as necessary in order to attract top candidates for the job, which will become vacant when Kerry Clery leaves the district at the end of the school year.
Bent and Rodriguez felt one reason Clery chose to take a job in another school system was better pay. In order to hire and keep someone as qualified she is, it was felt an increase in salary was needed.
Other administrative salaries would remain the same, including the superintendent at $168,000; director of technology at $95,000; and director of pupil services at $110,000.
Although School Committee members agreed to the proposal, members still struggled with the need to cut spending at all.
Committee member Leslie Lathrop said she hoped positions that had been cut in the past, such as curriculum director, would someday be restored.
"I think we should pursue savings opportunities wherever we can find them," countered fellow committee member John Giger. "We don't have a choice, as painful as that may be."
"To me," said committee member Luis DeLoureiro of the elimination of the personnel position and the difficulty in convincing the public for more money in order to restore it, "this would be a permanent move."
Explaining that the human-resources position was chosen for elimination because it would have the least impact on the students, Rodriguez nevertheless said she hoped to restore the lost positions when the current fiscal crisis was past.
Expressing resentment that Dunstable had asked for more cuts, Lathrop insisted that when considering cuts, the district needed to decide if they were being made to help the schools or the town.
At that point, talking of lines they would not cross or keeping class sizes from increasing, School Committee members began to show some resistance to further reductions.