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School opening might wait for budget clouds to clear

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TOWNSEND — Students may get a longer summer vacation than they were expecting.

Last Thursday, a short-handed School Committee met to discuss the current school budget situation. During the meeting, Superintendent Dr. Maureen Marshall suggested the possibility of delaying the school year.

“We were destined to return to school on (Aug. 27) as a staff and to have our children return with us on Aug. 28,” said Marshall. “We would have three days of school (Aug. 28-30) before at least the override vote in Ashby.”

Aug. 31 through Sept. 4 were already planned as no-school days.

Assuming the override question is approved by town meeting, Ashby will hold their ballot vote on Sept. 4. Townsend has not set a date for a ballot vote.

“We will not know what our budget is when school starts,” Marshall warned.

When the previous override was rejected by Townsend and Ashby, the schools entered the new fiscal year using one-twelfth of last year’s budget, per month.

The one-twelfth budget was workable during the summer, when teachers were away, but Marshall said the budget would not be adequate when school starts.

“It’s not enough to sustain the staffing levels that we have,” said Marshall. She said the school would have to make “mammoth cuts” in teacher staffing to sustain the current budget of 2.5 percent above net minimum that both Townsend and Ashby have agreed to.

“Do we dare open the schools at that level and have kids in various classes on the three days of August?” Marshall asked.

If school began as scheduled with the current budget and the override failed, students might return to larger classes or a different teacher in the second week, said Marshall.

“If the override does not pass, I would recommend to you that you would have to cut another million and a half dollars of staff,” said Marshall.

“That’s the worst-case scenario,” said Marshall. “That does not mean I will not continue to push the towns for another override vote. I will push all the way to December first. We won’t get everything we want, but they won’t get everything they want.”

Town and school officials had previously stated that Sept. 15 was the last possible date for an override, and afterward the money would have to come out of municipal budgets. Closer inspection of the law revealed that the nature of the override makes it exempt from the Sept. 15 deadline.

Committee member Joseph Sciacca suggested that the School Committee reach a decision about delaying the opening of school sooner rather than later, so there would be time to get the word out to parents.

Committee member Dennis Moore was against resolving the issue that night.

“We’re short four members,” said Moore. “People might have made more of an effort to be here if they had known we were going to discuss this. This was billed as an information meeting and we should leave it at that.”

While no decision was made, Marshall asked the attending committee members and the press to spread word of a possible delay.

“We know that if we stay with our current school schedule, it may not be in the best interest for kids,” said Marshall.