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HARVARD — By most standards, the Harvard school system can be considered excellent.

While that judgment can be made based on high MCAS scores, grade point averages or other statistics, Superintendent of Schools Thomas Jefferson uses programs such as the Academic Support Center as part of his measuring stick.

Implemented a couple of years ago at the recommendation of Bromfield Principal Thomas Hall, Jefferson said it’s essentially a directed study hall where students can get assistance when they need it. He termed it an important reflection of the school’s educational philosophy.

”That’s what the literature on really great schools talks about,” he said. “Are we willing to take the extra step to help kids who, in another place, might not learn?”

But the support center’s future is now in doubt because of a bleak financial picture.

Due to what Jefferson termed expenses largely outside the district’s control, the school’s initial fiscal year 2007 budget proposal called for approximately $750,000 in override funds, which was judged as too high of a figure.

As a result, the center was among cuts totaling $522,000 that helped the schools meet a target override request of $300,000.

While it is possible the schools could find another source of revenue to cover the $53,000 needed to maintain the program, the outlook is not optimistic.

Overall, Jefferson called it a net loss for the district and kids who need the extra help.

”There are a lot of kids who struggle just a little bit and I think it’s a loss for them,” he said. “At this point, we have to be prepared that eventually it may not be there.”

Hall, who saw $125,000 — excluding the learning center — cut from the Bromfield School budget in January, offered a similar sentiment.

”We’re making cuts that affect the kids,” he said.

Among the items removed from the Bromfield budget were $50,000 that equals a full-time teacher position, $10,000 each for supplies and books, and a virtual high school program that allows students to take electives online.

Another yard stick used to measure schools is class size, where tight budgets in recent years are also taking their tolls. Hall said Harvard currently has 34 core classes with more than 25 students enrolled in each. That number is up from 15 last year.

The current FY07 budget doesn’t include measures to reverse that trend. While Hall plans to retire at the end of this year, he said his successor will have some tough choices.

”I think if this continues, you’re going to see erosion,” he said, putting the onus largely on unfunded state and federal mandates. “I don’t want to put this all on the town. The town values education. Financially, the state and federal government has shifted the burden onto the towns in recent years and Harvard is suffering from that.”

The Bromfield School is one example of what is taking place across the district.

In the elementary school, almost $70,000 for math, technology and guidance aids was cut, as well as a fourth grade teacher position added in anticipation of high enrollment numbers. In the special education program, tutors from the preschool, elementary and high schools were also eliminated.

Harvard Elementary School Principal Mary Beth Banios said none of those decision were easy.

”I think the district is cut to the bone. There’s no place to cut,” she said. “Every cut we make at this point significantly affects our educational program.”

As examples, she cited the new math aide program, which was modeled after the early reading intervention model. She also said the technology aide cut will make running the library more difficult. Losing the guidance aide would remove a social-interaction curriculum that would benefit at-risk children.

”None of these cuts were easy, but we had a directive,” she said.

While there is the possibility that some items could be added or restored through additional support from the public at large, Jefferson said the school has become more dependent on such support in recent years. He fears that source is at a saturation point.

In discussing that situation, Hall described the financial burden on parents that has grown in recent years.

Harvard is the only school in the state that has no funds in the budget to pay for any extracurricular activities, he said, and that figures to continue. The cuts removed $16,000 that budgeted for student activities.

Instead, activities and sports are supported through activity fees. In practice, he said that can run from $120 to be on the math team to $500 to be on the ski team.

There are also more universal fees, Hall said, such as the one students pay to support the annual yearbook and to ride the bus.

”We’ve gone down this slippery slope a bit and we’re at the point where we’re depending on literally hundreds of thousands of dollars each year from the community to make Bromfield run,” he said. “For the parents of Harvard this is no longer a free public school education. They pay $325 for their children to ride the bus. Just a few years ago that was free.”

Circumstance makes it unlikely parents would be willing to pony-up for this newest round of restrictions and non-moves, said Jefferson.

”This is not a situation where a little bit of fundraising is going to turn the corner,” he said. “We’re already counting on several groups.”

Overall, Jefferson said there could be additional revenue in FY07 from a favorable education contract with Devens or increased state aid. However, since neither is certain, they are not included in their projections.

That means banking on the $300,000 override, he said, which should leave enough for Harvard to continue it’s high standards.

”What we’ll do is staff to meet those needs the best we can with less staff,” he said. “It’s far from ideal.”

”The things that make us great will still be here, but, as I recently told the PTA, I hope we’re here next year talking about how we can improve and not about how we can hold onto what we have,” he said.

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