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$42.7M budget OK'd for schools; Westboro town meeting approves 3.4 percent hike over fiscal 2013.

Byline: Donna Boynton

WESTBORO - The School Committee won a victory at Saturday's town meeting, gaining voter approval for a $42,694,208 school department budget, which was $173,000 more than what the Finance Committee had recommended.

The Finance Committee had recommended a school department budget of $42,521,400, a 3 percent increase above the current fiscal year's budget of $41.3 million. The school department budget that was adopted by voters is a 3.4 increase over the fiscal 2013 budget.

Town meeting voters approved a total fiscal 2014 budget of $89.3 million. School Committee Chairman Ilyse Levine-Kanji said the school department is giving the town "the biggest bang for the buck," with its students still achieving high test scores while the school department has been working under significant financial pressure in recent years.

Ms. Levine-Kanji said when drafting the budget, the administration only considered the most basic requests, and that its budget was a "minimal number necessary to run the school for the next year."

Ms. Levine-Kanji said the School Department wasn't able to stay within the 2 percent budget increase that Town Manager James Malloy and the Board of Selectmen had requested because the school is legally obligated to meet certain state and federal mandates - the most expensive of which is special education - and to do that, the school department relies on two funding sources - the local taxpayers and state and federal aid. Over the years, that state and federal aid has decreased and the burden has shifted to local taxpayers.

"After five years of cutting to keep up with five years of growing increases of mandated costs - including eliminating four positions - the five of us (School Committee) said we are as low as we are willing to go without the cuts affecting essential services and personnel," Ms. Levine-Kanji said.

One resident said the school budgeting over the past several years has been "like squeezing a tube of toothpaste" and it is at the point where "You can't get any more money out of the school system without a detriment to our children."

The Finance Committee held strongly to its recommended budget number, with Chairman Ed Bain saying his committee was not asking the schools to cut its budget, but to limit its increase to 3 percent.

"We are one town trying to do the best we can with the resources we have," Mr. Bain said. "We want the best schools we can afford."

Meanwhile, resident Dominic Caprioli recommended a school budget of $42.1 million, saying there needs to be more of a balance among all the needs of town residents.

The School Committee's recommended budget passed with a majority vote.
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Mar 17, 2013
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