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School budget can’t sustain more cuts, committee says

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SHIRLEY — The school side of the $1.2 million budget shortfall the town is facing should be split evenly with its municipal counterpart, said interim Superintendent of Schools Malcolm “Mac” Reid.

But the Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee don’t agree.

There is disagreement among the three boards as to exactly what 50/50 means and what figures it’s based on.

Reid argued at the May 5 tri-board deficit meeting that if layoffs are called for — and any more cuts in the school budget would have that effect — now is the time to decide. The law requires the School Department to notify staff by a certain date, he explained.

“We need to come to some conclusion,” he said. “Help me understand why we can’t agree on a 50/50 split.”

If the schools have to shave another $550,000 from a $8.8 million budget — on top of more than $500,000 in cuts already made — it would be fatal, he said.

“There won’t be a school system left,” he said.

But Finance Committee member Michael Smith questioned the base figure Reid and business manager Evan Katz started cutting from. And he said the discussion needs to get more specific.

“We need to see what the cuts are,” he said.

“That will take time,” said selectmen Chairman Leonardo “Chip” Guercio.

School Committee members said they’d like to see an “apples to apples” comparison that puts the school-versus-municipal-scenario into perspective.

The problem with that idea is that other departments don’t have sizeable budgets compared to the school’s, and their hit lists aren’t as long, said Finance Committee member Ellen Doiron.

“We have a difference of opinion,” interjected Guercio. “We have a $1.2 million shortfall. The proposal is to split it 50/50.”

Katz asked if added revenue would be equally shared, too.

That’s not the point, said Smith. As he sees it, income would reduce the gap and allow the three boards to decide together which cuts to restore, across the board. Applying cost savings the same way, he said they could determine which services they want to keep and which ones they’d let go.

“I don’t know if it’s three teachers or three police officers, but if we come in here again with one-time revenues and savings, it just postpones the problem for another year,” said Smith.

A point to consider is that there are more non-discretionary items on the town side, said Doiron.

“Yes, but dollar amounts are smaller,” Smith responded.

Though the prospect looks grim, said School Committee Chairman Robert Schuler, the approach Smith outlined seems fair.

“I don’t know how else we can do it,” he said.

The three boards left the table with “homework” to do for the next deficit meeting.

“We have to show the cuts and decide which ones are least painful,” said School Committee member Robert Prescott.

Reid summed up the gist of deficit summits to date.

“There are no revenues It’s all cuts for us,” he said.

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