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Staff Writer

HARVARD — With the Special Town Meeting rapidly approaching, the Board of Selectmen and School and Finance committees are scrambling to finalize a budget number to bring to residents for a vote.

But frustration filled the air at the May 1 triboard meeting when members of the School Committee failed to submit definitive numbers.

When asked where their finalized numbers were, committee member Willie Wickman said they didn’t have time to rework the numbers before the meeting, even though the committee had met earlier that week.

“Between then and now the numbers have changed,” Wickman said.

Harvard resident Lorin Johnson said he’s frustrated with the lack of detail in the School Committee’s cuts.

“Why is the School Committee not detailed?” he asked. “This was important to everybody to have the final numbers.”

Deborah Skauen-Hinchliffe was first to question the committee about its administrative costs.

“I’m very concerned that the School Committee hasn’t been cooperative with administrative costs,” she said. “They threaten parents with cuts of teachers when administration is so fat.”

That’s not true, said School Committee Chairman Stuart Sklar.

“Just because you say something doesn’t mean it’s true,” he said. “I’ll show you numbers that we are 18 percent under the state average.”

Department of Education Web site shows Harvard is $73 under the state average for administration expenditures per pupil.

The tri-board decided against asking residents to vote for a $448,000 override. It plans to present a $200,000 override at the Special Town Meeting.

The cuts the School Committee has proposed include $15,000 for the Virtual High School, $30,000 by restructuring the Learning Center and replacing the certified teacher with a non-certified teacher, $23,000 for a part-time maintenance person, $21,000 for a writing lab assistant and $11,000 in insurance for eliminating that position.

The School Committee didn’t have figures available for what would be cut to reach a zero-override budget.

Finance Committee member George McKenna questioned what the measuring points are for classroom cuts versus administration.

“We looked at a lot of different areas,” said Superintendent of Schools Thomas Jefferson, Ed.D. “We’re operating on 18 percent below the state average. We did make cuts in the Maintenance Department.”

Wickman then asked if the selectmen are willing to discuss an outside warrant for $65,000 for a middle school special education teacher. She said the School Committee feels adding the position will help keep Harvard residents in the public school system.

McKenna said he would support a warrant for a special education teacher, but not for the amount presented by the School Committee.

“I feel there are other ways to shave and other areas to raise the funds,” McKenna said.

Board of Selectman Chairman Leo Blair said he’s disappointed in the School Committee for its lack of cooperation.

“I have never seen anything committed to by the School Committee,” he said. “There has been production by everybody else but the School Committee.

“I have a grave concern. If you listen carefully, there seems to be a resistance over a $200,000 override. I’m scared if we reach too far it will be voted down. The political reality is, if we reach too far we’re going to have nothing.”

Concerned parent and Harvard resident Maria Kaufmann didn’t agree with Blair’s assessment.

“The original override only failed by 85 votes,” she said. “Eighty-five votes, that’s not a large margin. I don’t think it’s going to be so hard to pass a $200,000 (override).”

It’s up to voters to decide whether the override will be accepted and passed, said Selectman Lucy Wallace.

“The number-one goal is to end up with a balanced and approved budget by July 1,” said Finance Committee Chairman Debbi Ricci.

Blair wanted to take a straw vote to ensure the tri-board was willing to commit to a $200,000 override-based budget.

“We’re here tonight to arrive at a budget,” he said. “Who’s ready to endorse the $200,000 override? It would be very difficult for me to go to Town Meeting with a sort of ambivalence between the boards.”

All the members of the tri-board voted unanimously to support the budget.

The Special Town Meeting is slated for May 21. The Special Town Election will be held June 11.

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