Board Aims To Raise Voter Confidence In Schools
By: Alex Scofield
Is it right for the school committee to accentuate the positive, while at the same time asking Town Meeting voters to allow it to reduce its budget by nearly half a million dollars, in large part to pay back the district for overspending in the previous fiscal year?
That was the question that the school’s budget subcommittee pondered on Monday evening, along with two members of the town finance committee. The question came up after school committee Chairman Richard A. Lavoie ran through the presentation that he will give to Town Meeting voters on Monday evening, asking them to allow the district to reduce its budget by $471,000, most of which will be put toward paying back the $300,000 that was overspent in Fiscal Year 2009.
The balance of the cuts will account for a $141,000 reduction in state “pothole” money and to pay an outstanding $30,000 food service bill. There were no questions about the financial facts presented by Mr. Lavoie; however, the end of his presentation, which highlighted a list of school accomplishments under the tenure of current Superintendent Edmond W. LaFleur, was the source of some debate.
Subcommittee William T. Gibbons suggested that presenting some of the accomplishments, such high scores on Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) testing by kindergarteners and implementing an early literacy initiative, might seem a little “self-serving.” He said that though such a presentation may have gone over well with parents during a school committee meeting earlier in the month, Town Meeting was a totally different audience.
“I just don’t think it’s the place for it,” Mr. Gibbons said. Mr. Lavoie said that, though he understood Mr. Gibbons’s suggestion, he felt it was important to take time on the Town Meeting floor to dispel some myths about the schools.
One of those myths is that the school department always receives too much money and the other is that the students do not learn anything. “I recently saw one of those e-mails circulating around town, which originated from a selectman, that said, ‘I’ve heard they do good things [in the schools], but I have not seen any evidence of it,’ ” he said. “If selectmen feel that way, then I’m sure some members of the public feel that way, too.”
Mr. Lavoie said that pointing out the school’s accomplishments would put this year’s shortfall into perspective.
“It will show them, ‘This is where we are, this is what we’ve accomplished,’ and that this year, there was an error that lead to a deficit,” he said. Mr. Lavoie stressed that he would also point out that every dollar that was overspent was put toward school expenses, and that all of the cuts the district is asking for now would have been made last year, if not for the overspending that was recently discovered.
Mr. Gibbons suggested, then, if Mr. Lavoie were to present some highlights to Town Meeting voters, he should stick to straight-forward accomplishments that the public could relate to, like completing the Bournedale Elementary School under budget and the improvement in MCAS scores.
“Get more into the boom, boom, boom, factual stuff,” he said.
Mr. Lavoie agreed that, given the audience, such a compromise made sense. School Committee member Allen W. Swain added that shedding light on the positive things the schools have done was not about defending themselves to the public.
Rather, he said, it was about instilling in them a sense of confidence in the schools. “What this presentation can bring about in an audience is a sense of pride in what the school system has accomplished, as opposed to a sense of fear that this could happen again,” Mr. Swain said.
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