Schools affected harshly by economic troubles

Caroline Cohn

By Caroline Cohn

  Class of 2010  

 

  Statewide budget cuts consisting of an estimated $500 million reduction in local aid will have  broad  and  considerable  effects on a local level and will greatly impact Walpole schools.  

    These cuts are in response to the $1.1 billion dollar deficit confronting Massachusetts, which has prompted Governor Deval Patrick to ask that the state legislature grant him greater budget-cutting powers.  While such fiscal powers are not traditionally conceded to governors, Governor Patrick believes that the urgent economic crisis warrants this sudden expansion of power in order that he may effectively close the budget gap.  

    For Walpole, these budget reductions could translate to a loss of up to $750,000 in local aid.  Already in this fiscal year, Walpole has been forced to endure the loss of $750,000 in state aid for prison mitigation funding, but another such loss for the town will be “extremely difficult to manage,” said Superintendent Lincoln Lynch, who disagrees with the governor’s extension of powers.  “I think that democracy works because the citizens have representation through their House of Representatives and senators,” he said.  “When the senators and representatives give away this power to the governor, the citizens lose their voice.”

    Schools will absorb 66% of the cut that is enacted.  “Even though the governor said he won’t cut aid to education, he will cut other revenues to the town,” said Superintendent Lynch, and since all of the town’s finances are contained in one budget, “regardless of what [the governor] cuts, whether school or town, both ends will have to be cut.”  Schools could thus lose up to $500,000; however, “a more realistic number is probably in the range of $150,000.”

    Cuts will be spread equally among the elementary, middle, and high schools, and they will have a variety of implications.  While personnel-teachers, administrators, faculty-constitute 80% of the schools’ expenses, Superintendent Lynch has said that Walpole “will try to manage the cuts without layoffs this year.”  However, because the economy is predicted to worsen in the next year, the superintendent has said that layoffs will be made in the spring and will affect schools in September.  

    In addition to staffing levels, Superintendent Lynch has said that “everything will be looked at, including:  user fees (such as lunch costs, tuition for kindergarten, and busing), extra curricular and athletic fees, privatization of services, reduction in goods and services (supplies and materials), additional state revenue generators, state mandate relief (which will involve working with state legislators to relax state mandates on education), consolidation of school and town services, collaboration with other towns to provide services, and health care cost reduction in the schools for employees.”  Reductions in some athletics, such as having one less game per season, were also cited as a possible measure for cutting costs.  “The bottom line,” he said, “is that nothing is sacred; everything is subject to review.”  

  International programs, such as the Costa Rican and German exchange programs, have already been discontinued due to their costliness, with the upcoming trip to Europe (in spring of 2009) scheduled as the last international trip to be offered by the school until economic conditions improve.

   Special Education is one program that will not likely be included among those programs on the budget cutting block.  As most of these programs are mandated by law, there is little opportunity for reductions.  Superintendent Lynch is, however, “working on efficiencies to save money on delivery of Special Education.”  

   Superintendent Lynch held an emergency meeting on January 29, 2009-the day after Governor Patrick submitted his Fiscal Year 2010 budget proposal as part of his Emergency Recovery Plan-to initiate budget cuts.  “There will be a lot of people upset with the budget process this year for a lot of different reasons,” he said, but he stressed that student welfare was the primary concern.  “We just have to continue to educate the students even though as adults we are going through a very, very difficult time.”