Parents express school budget concerns to Cohasset Selectmen

“A Triple AAA bond rating is good, but other factors are important,” Dugan said, saying that she didn’t want to put more capital into stabilization at the expense of the schools.

Sarah McSweeney and Katie Dugan, concerned parents, told selectmen Tuesday that school enrollment growth has outpaced the school budget for the past three budget cycles.

McSweeney said she knew the town budget was also experiencing budget increases in health insurance and other areas. She said it was the $804,000.00 in the proposed school budget thAt concerned her. She told selectmen half of that $804,000** represented contractual salary increases. “You can’t have level services without staff.” **This number represents a 4.96% increase over the FY14 school budget.

Town Manager Chris Senior said he was meeting with concerned parents Wednesday morning. Senior noted that he had not yet finalized his 2015 budget. Senior said he was still working on health insurance increases, having gotten the bad news about increases just last week. However, Senior is considering moving retirees to a different health care plan that will save the town, retirees and active employees significant savings, without a hiccup in care.

“Three years ago this discussion wouldn’t be happening, Selectman Steve Gaumer said. “Thank you for being engaged. Three years ago we  were struggling to close a gap in the budget that shouldn’t have existed. The most important thing we can do is providing a realistic, transparent source of funding, administered in the most effective way possible. We have not yet viewed a budget; it hasn’t been created yet.  Most of this has to be hashed out publicly.”

“The fact remains; we are a town of limited resources. Budget growth on the school side is driven by union contracts; state and federal mandates are left for us to bear. Please be patient, continue to be participatory,” Gaumer said.

McSweeney countered that the selectmen can’t ignore growth. “Everybody who lives in this town invests in it.”

Selectman Martha Gjesteby said selectmen would be looking at budget priorities and may have to do some creative funding.

Cohasset was the only community that didn’t lose property values in the last recession, Select Chair Fred Koed noted. He told parents that Senior was looking for creative ways to put money aside for increasing enrolments. Normally, the schools know final enrollment figures around October.

Worried that the response to the increased enrollment would come too late to effect the first semester, McSweeney said “You can’t redo 7th grade,” adding that the town had to do better forecasting.

Kate Dugan told selectmen that the town was experiencing shifting demographics. Dugan said she had seen the three pages of budget priorities but said those priorities had to be weighted.

“A Triple AAA bond rating is good, but other factors are important,” Dugan said, saying that she didn’t want to put more capital into stabilization at the expense of the schools.

Gaumer countered that while the Triple AAA rating may see vague and unusual it was important to set a goal. He said it was important that town officials provide a solid, stable source of funds for projects. “Triple AAA bond is a rallying point.”

“It’s important for the schools to understanding that the town faces similar challenges as the schools,” Selectman Karen Quigley said. She added that there would be many differences of opinion as to weighting priorities. “It isn’t a slam dunk. There are a of of challenges that need to be met within the community.”

Dugan said she wanted selectmen to weigh in or how those priorities were being weighted. “I ask you to not put us I this position net year. I don’t have the patience to be I the this position again next year.”

The budget process starts in September, Gaumer said, and is projected to result in a completed budget by December. He noted that the process as completed by a former acting town manager, but was not in a form in which the newly appointed town manager could utilize.

© Copyright 2014 Tanna K, All rights Reserved. Written For: Tinytown Unleashed