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School budget compromise may be on horizon


April 4, 2013
By Chris Maza

chrism@thereminder.com

LONGMEADOW — Representatives from the School Committee and Select Board have made headway in reaching a compromise regarding the proposed School Department budget.

The School Committee had voiced displeasure in the Select Board's decision to move forward with its budget, which proposed no increases to the School Department. The School Committee's budget requested approximately $605,000 in additional funding. Including the capitalization of the fiber optic network and special revenue adjustments, the difference between the two proposals was roughly $726,000, according to Finance Director Paul Pasterczyk.

After a series of emails pointing fingers on both sides were exchanged, School Committee Chair Michael Clark said his committee and the Select Board engaged in a more civil exchange.

"Shortly after the emails were sent, [Select Board Chair] Paul Santaniello and [Select Board Vice Chair] Mark Gold offered to speak with us," he said. "We went to the Select Board and publicly said we wanted to work toward a compromise."

Clark, who had previously threatened to take the matter to the Town Meeting floor, said it was his hope that a compromise would be agreed on beforehand.

"We really do want to come to a compromise. Arguing this at Town Meeting is not fair to anyone," he said. "It's incumbent upon us to com up with an agreement."

Clark went on to explain that of a working group consisting of himself, School Committee member James Desrochers, Santaniello and Gold had two meetings; the first meeting was to establish ground rules for the discussion and to settle on a number and the second was to determine what proposal could be made to reach that number.

"What was really helpful was the fact that we had a really open dialogue," Clark said.

Santaniello said at the April 1 Select Board meeting that the two sides had come up with a proposal, but declined to go into further detail until the School Committee had a formal discussion on the matter.

"There was a number put on the table at our last meeting," he said. "The School Committee hasn't discussed it yet. They will be at their April 8 meeting, so we will address it at our next meeting on [April] 16."

Gold said that the number that has been agreed upon may not satisfy everyone, but is the best way to serve the town.

"It's a number that neither board is happy with, but I think it's a number both can live with," he said.

The School Committee and School Department have maintained that without the increases initially proposed, cuts to staffing would be necessary. Clark said it was not currently known what cuts would be made.

"Given the uncertainty with how the budget will play out, it is difficult to say. The [administration] team has looked into different scenarios," he said. "Once we know what the budget is going to be, by contract, the teachers need notification 15 days after Town Meeting.

"We don't want to make morale at the schools lower than it has to be and we want the focus of the staff to continue to be on providing quality education for our children," he continued.

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