Shrewsbury Schools Face 'Sobering Reality' To Close Budget Gap

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Shrewsbury School Committee Chair Erin Canzano wants administrators to come up with a preliminary budget gap forecast.
Shrewsbury School Committee Chair Erin Canzano wants administrators to come up with a preliminary budget gap forecast. Photo Credit: John Swinconeck
Superintendent Joseph Sawyer updates the committee on the state of the district.
Superintendent Joseph Sawyer updates the committee on the state of the district. Photo Credit: John Swinconeck

SHREWSBURY, Mass. – Shrewsbury school officials are looking ahead to the coming budget process, and want to plan for what looks like a difficult year.

The board and Superintendent Joseph Sawyer agreed Wednesday to identify their budget needs as soon as possible. Board Chair Erin Canzano asked administrators to provide the committee with a preliminary budget gap forecast.

Meanwhile, Shrewsbury schools are dealing with the repercussions of the current budget and its $2.5 million gap. The loss of 16 teaching positions means crowded classrooms, especially in grades four through eight.

The athletic program is facing a $70,000 gap. That could be exacerbated by the cancellation of night games because of fears over the mosquito-borne EEE virus.

"The task in front of us is how to navigate through the upcoming budget process, to think about restoring, not reducing," said Canzano.

Sawyer said he wants to raise $2.5 million from different sources, including a capital campaign, philanthropic support and sponsorship, to close the budget gap.

"I'm optimistic, but its still a sobering reality that we face," Sawyer said.

Board member B. Dale Magee warned that parents may show their displeasure by moving their kids out of the district and into charter schools or other public schools through the school choice program.

"If we make things too tight, too undesirable ... it will make a bad situation worse," Magee said.

"We need to sustain what we have and we need to bring back what we've lost," Vice Chairman John R. Samia said. "We have a finite amount of resources and we need to make some tough decisions."

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Comments (9)

I think the 16 teachers that got laid off (not to mention all those "reassigned") might think that the school budget HAS come to bear the same economic realities as the general population. Same for the fifth graders in study halls rather than classes (we call it "curriculum extensions" so it doesn't sound so bad...), for the fourth grade teachers tripping over 29 kids in one small classroom, and for the working parent who really wants their kid to be able to join a club or pay a sport, but after $250 for the bus, the $295 for the sport and $100 for the club are really hard to come by. No reality there??

‘Fair and Balanced’ needs to be more accurate in order to live up to the name, e.g. Federal tax rates are almost the highest among developed countries. It’s tax loopholes that reduce Federal tax revenues, and it’s these tax loopholes that Romney says he will eliminate or reduce. … Romney only paid about 15% in federal taxes last year? So what? Tell me – don’t you take advantage of perfectly legal tax loopholes in order to minimize your federal taxes? … The growth in the federal budget deficit ’ballooned primarily due to Bush tax cuts ($5 trillion)’? But that was $5 trillion over 8 years, and Obama ‘accomplished’ the same in less than half the time! And if Obama were serious about the deficit, he could have addressed it in 2009 – 2010 when he had strong majorities in both houses of Congress. … All of the Bush tax cuts are set to expire the end of this year? But almost everyone agrees that they will be retained for everyone except those at the highest income levels. The additional tax collections from this group will not reduce the deficit, and probably will not even significantly reduce the rate of growth in the deficit. … Almost 50% of people do not pay federal INCOME taxes? That does not mean that they all live near or below the poverty level, especially if federal transfer payments are included when determining who is below the poverty level. … The Shrewsbury schools have budget issues in large part because, like every other town in Massachusetts, its leaders had continued to agree to large salary contracts, which were only sustainable as long as the state was able to increase local aid significantly each year. … As for the low property taxes in Shrewsbury, we should not consider increasing the rates until school salaries and benefits have been made to bear the same economic realities as the general population.

Federal tax rates are very low. Mitt Romney paid 15% federal tax last year. The federal budget deficit has ballooned primarily due to the Bush tax cuts ($5 trillion) and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Bush tax cuts expire at the end of this year. The increase in tax from that will begin to reduce the deficit. 50% of people do not pay federal taxes because they live near or below the poverty level approx. $22k annually for a family of 4 with 2 kids under the age of 18.
The Shrewsbury schools have a complex and significant budget issue, but we also have the lowest property taxes in the area 50% of what’s being paid in Westborough. In addition those property taxes are deductible for Federal tax returns. The property taxes support the schools and good schools help the homes in town appreciate in value. Not to mention the kids that that are educated in the schools run most of the retail businesses around here.

That being said, Shrewsbury’s Teachers shouldn’t be getting large year on year % raises in such difficult times.

I don't believe I have to justify nor will I announce what the ages of my kids are, where they go to school etc. I live in Shrewsbury, that is all you have to know. I have extensive knowledge of a the school and municipal system, and I am not going to tell you how I know this. You can try and discredit me with your rants but I am merely stating the facts. The school budget is out of control. That is why you are paying for all of these extra items you have listed off. Teachers are well paid and good for them they chose a great career. But you want to know the reasons the budget is out of control and why there are these gaps to close but you don't want to open your eyes to the reasons or the solutions. That's all I was saying.

All good points from all the postings. The cold hard facts are, we have spent ourselves close to an economic abyss. Put simply we have run out of money, look at the deficit, blame it on whoever you want. A 16,000,000,000,000 dollar deficit, that is a lot of Zeros following the 16. Does anyone know where the money will come from to pay this economic disaster down. Some say increase the taxes on the 1%, I don't think it would dent the pay down. Pure and simple we have to live within our means, defer instant gratification. How about everyone pay their fare share, I have heard, do not know this for a fact, close to 50% of us do not pay any taxes at all. Maybe we should start there to correct this mess. IMHO

Ms. Heske, whether or not Mr. Lowry had kids in the public system is not relevant. If he is a Shrewsbury taxpayer, then he has as much right as you to comment on the school budget. Your comments make it clear that you think a substantial increase in the school budget would solve all the problems. Apart from being wrong, it is simplistic, so I’ll give you some better simplistic solutions to the problems you raise:
1) Problem - 25-30 kids per classroom is overcrowded because staff was cut to meet budget constraints? Solution: Get teachers to forgo all salary increases and moves to the next pay steps in the current school year. Not only would this have saved enough money to retain all staff, but money would have been available for additional purposes, including technology, sports, etc.
2) Problem – Kids with learning difficulties that make it difficult for teachers to teach? Solution: Get the administration to abandon its policy of full inclusion. Get the administration to lobby hard with other school districts about getting the state to pay its proper share of special education costs, instead of just whining about it. Also, reintroduce tracking at the middle schools so that teachers can work with children of more similar abilities within a classroom.
3) Problem – One Principal has to cover two schools? Solution: Tell the administration to move one of the many assistant principals from the middle or high schools.
4) Problem: You evidently think that teachers are not ‘well paid’? Solution: Get the facts, not the selective statistics of the administration, which only compares teacher salaries to other districts. Fact – the average salary and benefits of a Shrewsbury teacher significantly exceed those of the average Shrewsbury taxpayer. They also exceed those of the typical private school.
Simplistic? Perhaps. But my solutions would go a lot further toward solving school funding problems than your solution.

Mr. Lowry -
I have a fourth grader in a class with 29 children. The classroom was built for about 20 or 22. While "only" seven more children doesn't sound like a lot, please stop by one of our public elementary schools and take a look at how physically crowded (not to mention stifling hot) our classrooms are. At Spring Street School, the fourth grade classrooms have 28 and 29 children in them.

I pay $250 for the privilege of that same child riding a bus to school, which is necessary so that I can get to work on time. I pay $165 for the technology fee for my middle school child can use an iPad at school and home. That bus ride is free, but only until my child enters 7th grade, so $500 per year for the bus is coming. At middle school, it's $50 just to have the opportunity to sign up for clubs and after school activities - and then the activities still have fees and fundraising on top of that. In high school, that will be $100. And $290 if they wish to play a sport. All of those fees come before the supply list which is easily $50 worth of required supplies (and I'm a huge bargain hunter).

PTOs and events like the Garden Party and Road Scholars race raise money to help support our schools, and it's great, but it only covers equipment and materials. It's still not enough.

I'm sure any member of the school committee or principal would be happy to show you the impact budget cuts have had on our classrooms. Please be patient waiting for them to return your call as they are also doing lunchroom duty, covering the nurse's office and on the phone trying to raise money to pay for things not covered in the budget again.

Dear Mr. Lowry,
Since you are so concerned about the schools, please let the readers know if you have kids what grades your children are in? (Or are they no longer in the Shrewsbury public schools and what year they graduated)? Then please get a tour from the Education Department and the school committee during school hours and sit through a class with 25-30 kids and one teacher and see how easy it is for these "well paid teachers" to teach all of those kids. Ask about how many of these kids are on or need to be on ADHD medicine just to sit in their seats so their peers can learn next to them? Make sure you go over and speak with Jane Wilken at Paton who has agreed to take on the Principalship at two different schools in order to save some money for this district this year. Although she is very positive, this is not an easy task for anyone. And she would be the first to give credit to her "well paid" (?) staff. Ask about how technology, sports, music, transportation and other programs like specialty math and science are funded (partially or wholly) by parent fees, private/ corporate funds and grants, and not typical school funds (like when you and maybe your kids were in school). Ask about Shrewsbury's drop out rate in comparison to other towns and really think about what your neighborhood would look like if a bunch of undirected high school kids suddenly dropped out of school and started hanging around. I get a crazy reaction when people who are not engaged with their educational system (and if you are, we would all love to hear about it) make "chicken little" comments when the rest of us are working and sweating it out on how much more creative our school system has to be to compete with other middle class communities. No we are not South Central LA, nor do we want to be! This is not western medicine where one only gets treated when there's an issue, it's about managing crisis before it happens and while it's happening. Please ask for that tour, I'm sure they'd be happy to educate you and other concerned citizens. I do believe a good education and understanding of what is expected today of our children and our the education system from a local, state and federal level and an idea of where we sit and where we should be sitting on that chart might open your eyes and keep others, especially those on fixed incomes from jumping on the "chicken little" band wagon. Times are much tougher than most realize and it's time to start explaining what that means to those seemingly unaffected. PS: Sidebar: We'd love a donation: Parker Road Preschool's sign got vandalized for the third time this year. (Their playground damage from last summer was fixed by PTO Dad after last year's vandalism.) But I wonder what those kids and their parents think about Shrewsbury Education system's and lack of funds this year? Without the funds to keep these kids engaged in learning both the basics and the niche curriculum extras, it's parents and active community members who continue to pay the price. Mail your donation to Parker Road Preschool at 15 Parker Road. And then come out and help the volunteers who do so much out of pocket with their time and money to make things better so people don't make false claims that get others all riled up. Most respectfully yours. Angela Heske

HERE WE GO! Now we begin the "chicken little sky is falling" routine this town has become so famous for. We have no money, have no money...oh look we found 1.8 million dollars here you go schools. And we have "crowded" classrooms?? Whats the actual numbers. I'd like to see a break down of every single class in Shrewsbury and see how many actual kids are "crowding" these classes. This isn't Los Angeles, our schools are beautiful, are teachers are WELL paid and our classes are definitely not overcrowded.