SHREWSBURY, Mass. — With demand for services outstripping the town's ability to pay for them, some in Shrewsbury are worried that essential school programs will be cut and police and fire departments will continue to go understaffed.
Some got so worried after hearing about the school district's financial troubles in October that they decided to become advocates.
Fast-forward to Wednesday night at the Shrewsbury Public Library, where The Shrewsbury Advocates - a new group formed to preserve public services and schools by providing the community with unbiased information - hosted a discussion with Town Manager Daniel Morgado and Schools Superintendent Joseph Sawyer during its inaugural meeting.
Before about 100 attendees, Morgado and Sawyer discussed how Shrewsbury's explosive population growth in the 1990s meant a greater demand for school and town services, but without the means to pay for it.
With a decrease in state aid and tax-increase limits under Proposition 2½, Morgado and Sawyer said some tough decisions may be made as town and school departments formulate their budgets before Town Meeting in May.
“We're all dealing with the growth of the 1990s,” Morgado said. “We were building 294 single-family homes in '94-'95. … Our tax levy has not kept pace with that.”
Morgado said he "hears a lot of people are in difficult financial conditions,” but also "hears residents saying ''Do something about class size, but make sure my taxes don't go up. Make sure my trash gets picked up.'"
Meanwhile, Sawyer said he is dealing with the highest number of students - about 6,000 - and the largest class sizes he's experienced.
Lorraine Daignault, who moderated the meeting, said in an interview that Shrewsbury “does a tremendous amount with what we have,” but that people are “starting to feel pain” where municipal services are concerned.
One of the ways to protect the town's schools and services is with a well-informed public, she said.
“Knowledge is power, and your words are power. But people don't want to talk, unless you have a knowledge base to speak from," Daignault said. "That's why we wanted to create this - to help inform the people of the community.”