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Schools will survive current cuts, but it won’t be pretty

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SHIRLEY — At the Annual Town Meeting, (ATM) School Committee Chairman Robert Prescott stated that the schools could “live with” the Finance Committee’s recommended budget, even though it’s $221,545 less than a level-funded budget.

It was a compromise, he explained in a later interview. But the cuts would be painful.

Prescott wanted to make it clear that unified arts programs — art, music and physical education — are safe for now and that’s what he meant when he said pink slips (termination notices) those teachers had received would not stand.

There will be art, music and physical education classes next year, same as this year, he said, even if a tentative tax override to cover the $221,000 gap doesn’t pass.

Even though the programs that many parents have expressed the most concern about are safe, for now, Prescott said, other positions have been lost or downsized.

Cut from the school budget were one full-time support (office) position and part-time hours in the same category, plus a middle school assistant principal.

In addition, other jobs were eliminated or downsized in the FY09 budget to reach a level-funded benchmark, Prescott said, including 4.5 special ed assistant positions.

Revenue enhancing moves included a 40 percent hike in building rental fees and upping from $75 to $100 the annual activity fee Shirley Middle School students pay to participate in sports and extracurricular activities.

Other FY09 cuts that will be implemented include bus service, which will be provided only for students in kindergarten through sixth grade who live two miles or more from school.

Most technology upgrades were cut, too, meaning computers and software can’t be updated according to a technology plan required by the state, Prescott said. Also lost for next year are a special education assistant and 95 percent of an administrative assistant’s job in the superintendent’s office.

The middle school librarian will be replaced with an aide next year, which means the library may lose its accreditation, Prescott said.

The K-8 school psychologist is gone, too, and those services will be contracted out, he said.

With the loss of one seventh and one eighth grade teaching position, two courses formerly taught all year — science and social studies — will be taught for just half the year. That means some students could struggle with the MCAS science exam if they have to take it too long after completing science classes, Prescott warned.

If the School Department must further cut its budget to meet the Finance Committee’s recommended below-level-funded budget, the hit list includes a second grade teacher, reducing three classrooms down to two with a resultant hike in class size, Prescott said. Also included would be a part-time elementary school reading teacher, a full-time reading assistant, and a full-time special ed teacher at the middle school.

The level-funded, no-override proposal shows the Devens school closed and students moved to the Lura White School, which has adequate space for them, Prescott said.

In this scenario, staff losses include a part-time administrative assistant in the special ed office and a full-time technical instructor who works with students in an innovative exploratory technology program originally funded by a gift.

In a summarized snapshot, school staff would be downsized by 13 percent next year if the override fails, with more than 17 positions eliminated, including teachers, assistants, school nurses, office staff and custodians.

While the schools may be able to survive cuts like these, Prescott and others have said, the fabric gets thinner every year.

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