Town Meeting members approved a near $39 million dollar Education budget at Session 3 of Stoughton's Annual Town Meeting, Monday night, May 14 at the Stoughton High auditorium.
Of the $38,739,244, just north of $37.7 million ($37,701,774) will be going to the Stoughton Public Schools. The remaining funds go to Southeastern Regional (1,017,470) and Norfolk Agricultural ($20,000).
The $37.7 million for the Stoughton Public Schools is what the School Committee approved back in December. This represents an increase of $1,766,120 or 4.91% from the final FY12 budget that was approved at last year's Town Meeting.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Marguerite Rizzi called it a “level service budget,” striving to maintain the services currently offered by the school department.
The main goals of the budget, according to a document released by the schools include:
- Maintenance of current services programs and class sizes.
- No elimination of Extra-Curricular activities or increase in fees.
- Address NEASC concerns (adding a library/media center specialist at Stoughton High).
- Return teachers to budget from expiring government grants.
For three years, federal stimulus grants helped to maintain 14.2 teaching positions (which equates to 13 full-time and 2 part-time positions), but since these grants have expired, the School Department has decided to add these positions back into their operating budget.
The budget proposes eliminating a library aide at Stoughton High School and replacing that position with a full-time librarian. The lack of a full-time librarian was a concern of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) in its accreditation evaluation of the school.
Another change proposed in the budget is the creation of two administrative positions - a curriculum design specialist for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and a curriculum design specialist for the humanities.
These administrative additions are part of a proposed reorganization, which includes eliminating the position of department heads/directors at the high school in place of "head teachers." A social studies teaching position at SHS is also eliminated as part of this reorganization.
The school budget document states that the reorganization will provide "better vertical articulation of curriculum" for grades 6-12.
According to the budget document:
"The proposed reorganization achieves several goals at the same time. The NEASC report advised the administration to provide leadership for each subject area in the high school. The model of Head Teacher, used at the middle school, gives each department a leader, while at the same time putting experienced teachers back in the classroom...the two new staff members will be responsible for providing leadership in their curricular areas of expertise from Pre-K through 12th grade, providing better vertical articulation in the curriculum, better communication across the district about curriculum, and a unified approach to the switch to the new Common Core curriculum standards."
For the second year in a row, Precinct 1 Town Meeting member Elliott Hansen made a motion to reduce the budget for the Stoughton Public Schools.
He proposed reducing the $37.7 million budget by 5 percent, which would have essentially level-funded the schools, giving the Stoughton Public Schools approximately the same budget as in FY12.
This motion was preceded by a speech from Precinct 2 Town Meeting member Joaquin Soares urging his fellow Town Meeting members to reduce spending and help deal with Stoughton's debt.
He said the "horn of plenty is evaporating."
"The school budget increases every year [and] we're in a recession," Soares said. "We spend money as though we are not."
After Hansen made his motion, a number of members spoke in support of the school budget, citing the importance a quality school system has on property values.
Dr. Rizzi said approximately 80-percent of the budget for the Stoughton Public Schools is for salaries.
"You can't just arbitrarily take away five percent," Precinct 3 Town Meeting member Donna Ayers said, citing many of the salary costs are fixed costs. "You just can't cut it off and say I don't want to pay for it."
The motion was defeated and then then the budget, as originally presented, was passed.