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Reconsideration of school budget asked, but rejected


SHIRLEY — Four nights into the ongoing Annual Town Meeting, temporary alternate moderator Paul Przybyla, standing in for town moderator George Knittel, almost abandoned a precedent set at the start and reiterated at the last session, when Knittel stated that no votes taken in one session would be revisited in another.

On Monday night, June 23, Przybyla said two voters wanted to forward a motion to rescind a previous vote and revisit the School Department budget, voted on the week before.

On Thursday, June 19, the school budget was considered a done deal when the meeting adjourned. That night, voters agreed to move the $6 million-plus school budget up in the line item queue, then approved a figure $221,000 more than the Finance Committee had recommended, with the added amount contingent on a tax override.

There had been much discussion up to that point, but resident Kevin Hayes said at the recent session it was getting “repetitious” when a motion to move the question passed.

But some school proponents apparently wanted another crack at the item.

“Someone called the question and we were denied the opportunity to speak further,” resident Richard Dill said at the recent session.

But resident and former selectman Norman Albert debunked Dill’s assertion that “one person” had quelled discussion last time around. “The voters made that decision,” he said.

Knittel last Thursday night approved in advance the motion to consider the school line item early, opening the floor for testimony that seemed aimed at a non-existent target.

The Board of Selectmen had been expected to forward a proposal — most likely as an amendment — to re-divide a $1.2 million budget deficit between the school and municipal sides so that 66 percent of the burden fell on the schools versus town government’s 34 percent.

Selectmen Chairman Leonardo “Chip” Guercio opposed the idea. He and others said the schools couldn’t survive the additional cuts necessary to cover 66 percent of the shortfall.

The School Committee was expected to defend a previous 50/50 deficit-splitting deal. But, as it turned out, they didn’t have to. The 66/34 plan never came up.

School Committee Chairman Robert Prescott said the schools could live with the requested $6.95 million budget, without layoffs or undue impact on services and programs.

Other than the Finance Committee’s lower recommended figure, the department request wasn’t challenged but several supporters staunchly defended the budget anyway.

Citing “pink slips” that Prescott later explained went out as a precautionary measure against a worst-case scenario, resident Melissa Hofmann, who called herself a proud product of the Shirley school system that her two children now attend, said her kids were upset by the prospect of losing teachers and “specials” such as gym, art and music.

Some said budget-busting plans foster the notion that townspeople don’t support their schools. One man stated his child isn’t getting what he needs in the Shirley schools now, and more cuts will make things worse.

Prescott said the current system doesn’t offer what it did when he attended 30 years ago.

But at the fourth ATM session Monday night, a healthy school-supportive turnout wasn’t sufficient to counter objections to the reconsideration motion. Przybyla at first said he’d allow it, but after several people spoke strongly against it, the interim moderator changed his mind. “I will not entertain a motion to reconsider,” he said.

The school budget stands, as does the $221,000 override, at least so far.

The meeting, which adjourned around 10:30 p.m., was continued to Tuesday night, June 24.