Triton Voice

Budget Crisis Intensifies

State reps promise more funding, but may be too late for this year’s problem

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“Regional schools are in a crisis,” emphasized Massachusetts State Senator Kathleen Ives at the district budget meeting last Thursday evening. While several temporary solutions were discussed during this forum, it was clear that there are no easy fixes to this overwhelming issue.

Last night, Superintendent Brian Forget echoed Ives’ sentiments when considering a budget that could cut more than 50 teachers.
“We used the word crisis last year,” said Forget. “This year it has a whole new meaning.”

In a school budget meeting last night, the school committee and local citizens listened to and shared what they believe is the way forward.

During the meeting, the school committee came up with three budget scenarios. The budget scenarios are not final and are speculation on the part of the committees. However, they provide a good look into possible paths the budget may take. The first scenario would increase the budget by $3.1 million and no cuts would be made to the school. The second scenario would increase the budget by $1.4 million and 36 staff would be cut. The final scenario would increase the budget by $734 thousand and 51 staff would be cut, along with many programs. The crisis begins with the state not adequately funding regional schools, according to
the committee. Nearly all the citizens spoke in favor of supporting the schools budget needs. J.R. Colby, a selectman in Newbury, said he is willing to work with the rest of the community on the issue. “We do not want to leave one community stranded,” he said.

Students showed their support at the meeting. Senior Kaleigh Maloney spoke about the direction she feels the school is going. “Taking one (teacher) away, you’re destroying a family,” she said, referring to the possibility of 51 teachers being laid off. The at-
mosphere in the room painted a clear picture of how willing the community is to band together and work with the school committee to make the best choice as a group.

At the forum last week, state Auditor Suzanne Bump chaired the panel and was
joined by: Director of Local Mandates Dr. Ben Tafoya, Triton District Superintendent Brian Forget, Triton Regional School Committee Chair Dina Sullivan, MassachusettsState Senators Bruce Tarr and Kathleen Ives, as well as Massachusetts State Representatives Brad Hill, James Kelcourse, and Lenny Mirra.

The meeting started with a brief introduction, to the audience estimated at over 400, with the Triton School Committee Chair, Dina Sullivan. She introduced the big topics of the night which consisted of the state obeying Chapter 70 (the state law that allocates resources and funding to public schools) that the district schools were promised, and paying for all of the Regional transportation costs and not just a fraction of them. Additionally, there was the issue of covering special education costs in a re-
gional school due to its high percentage of the school’s budget. Sullivan was then followed by Triton Superintendent, Brian Forget, reiterating the immense need for funding of transportation in the district.

Shortly after, State Auditor, Suzanne Bump gave her input and position, which she demonstrated through her report. She made clear to the audience that this meeting was not to be of a traditional style saying, “I don’t know if you think you were coming to an
informational meeting, but this is a political meeting, make no mistake.” She was accompanied by her Director of Local Mandates, Dr. Ben Tafoya, and he dove into the statistical side of the issue. Tafoya stated, “transportation costs are only reimbursed in part; only regular day ‘yellow busses’ is included. Special education transportation is not covered.” It was clear to the audience that he agreed with the regional school side of the issue.

Next was State Representative, Brad Hill, who made a promise to the regional schools that he would ensure change in the near future. Hill stated “We heard you loud and clear, and we are going to address that this fiscal year.” In addition, Hill stated a
potential source of money to fund the gaps in the regional school education funding. Hill said, “I would argue to you that the
money that we need should come from the gaming and cannabis revenue.”

James Kelcourse, a fellow Representative, stated that one of the best ways to address the problem is to reach out to the
representatives at the state level. Kelcourse said, “we are your best assets in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, so reach out to us.”

Kathleen O’Connor Ives, a State Senator, had a couple of strong points that appealed strongly to the audience and were followed by applause. She agreed with the Hill and repeated his thoughts, stating something similar, “this is the year we make the promise…regional schools are in a crisis.” Earlier she acknowledged that the costs of bussing is always increasing and that it is never getting less expensive to do so. O’Connor states that even though, “the costs are so incredibly overwhelming,” she will make it her best interest to try to improve the current costs that regional districts are facing. O’Connor Ives promised to do so in a timely fashion.

The next portion of the meeting was a question and answer portion from the audience. The first to speak was David Peterson, a Rowley resident. He stated “In the last 3 years we [the town of Rowley] has contributed $1.2 million. That is because of significant taxing on municipal items.The circuit breaker thing is an absolute joke. It’s a joke… We need help. We love our schools, but we now have our backs against the wall, so please help us. If you can set up a pothole fund for short term, that would be greatly appreciated.” Peterson had very strongly opposing views to the current system and the state of the funding for Triton.

The next audience member to speak was Dale Williams, a father of two Triton graduates from Rowley. His main focus was on what our school is paying for, more specifically special education. Williams’s point was that we should look at special educa-
tion as two separate costs: education and medical expenses. The school should only have to cover the education expenses and
not the medical expenses. His final point was that Massachusetts is a state for education; if we can pride ourselves as being the best state in the nation when it comes to education, but we can’t even fund it; something is wrong there. He says the problem is at the top with leadership and to, ̈ throw the bums out. Let’s try someone else. ̈

After the meeting concluded, Triton Voice asked the opinions of the state auditor, Ms. Bump, and additionally of our superintendent. Bump said, “ this is the largest attendance we’ve seen, and this shows the commitment and willingness to
understand.” She thought that the night was productive and that it went as intended. There were about 400 people at the forum.
After the event, Forget was asked how he thought the night went. He responded that he thought it went well but will be interested to see what the follow up will be and how it will be brought upon at the district level. He wants to see the funding quickly change for the district and for it to be effective as soon as possible. The event made it clear that improvement is expected and it is hoped that there will be change in the spring. Bruce Tarr said that we should expect change, “from May to Labor Day,” because that is the time they will be debating and analyzing the issue to look for a solution. This in mind, we hope to see some improvement in the promises that the state representatives have given to incentivize districts to regionalize and more money for things that
are necessities such as bussing and special education.

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Budget Crisis Intensifies