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Failed overrides hit schools hard; Officials battle slashed budgets.

Byline: George Barnes

Forced to cut nearly $1 million from this year's budget, Clinton Superintendent of Schools Terrance P. Ingano is already worried about next year.

Clinton was one of three Central Massachusetts school districts to seek budget overrides and lose. The districts now face profound challenges in the form of program cuts, unfilled teacher vacancies, delayed maintenance, and growing concern about the effects down the road.

Mr. Ingano had hoped voters would approve a $600,000 override this summer. He said he cut more than $300,000 from the district's $17.4 million budget before the annual town meeting, but felt at the time that cutting another $600,000 would be a disservice to the students. On June 16, voters rejected the override 1,294 to 934.

The Narragansett Regional School District sought $900,000 total from its two towns of Templeton and Phillipston to supplement its budget. In Winchendon, $492,000 was sought to balance its school budget. Those two overrides were also defeated by large margins, a situation officials say is the result of economic worries by voters.

An override is a tough sell in good times, but this year overrides have gone down to defeat in many communities - the latest being in Hubbardston, where road repair money lost by 30 votes.

Mr. Ingano said he is making the cuts he has to this year, but voters should know he sees no option but to go for another override next year.

With the slow economic recovery, some districts facing equally tight budgets chose not to seek overrides at all, expecting them to fail.

Athol Superintendent of Schools Anthony T. Polito said he preferred finding ways to cut within the budget this year, and hopes voters would remember when more critical overrides are sought in the future.

The Quabbin Regional School District has not been able to get a budget together because of opposition in New Braintree and Oakham, where residents said they do not feel enough has been cut from what was proposed.

In Clinton, Mr. Ingano said it has been a scramble for him the past two months to find ways to keep the district operating without the $600,000.

"I'm kind of throwing everything together at the last minute," he said.

When Clinton Elementary School students begin classes Tuesday, they will find four fewer teachers with retirees not being replaced, 14 department chairman positions cut, two school clerks and a part-time special education clerk lost, and one less school nurse position. There will be no sports at all at the middle school and only football on the junior varsity level, after all except high school coaches were let go. Junior varsity football was restored through a gift from local businesses, but junior varsity field hockey, volleyball, basketball for girls and boys, baseball, and softball all remain on the cut list.

Other less obvious changes will be in building and grounds. Two summer helpers were not hired this year, and the number of custodians has been cut from three to two in each school.

"That's going to put more pressure on teachers and kids to keep things clean," Mr. Ingano said.

The district also no longer has a business manager or a data specialist. The School Committee did restore a middle school clerical position because the woman in that position knows Spanish. It also restored the high school librarian to full time in an effort to avoid problems when the district goes for accreditation.

In Winchendon, Superintendent of Schools Brooke Clenchy said cuts were made early in the budget process, and the district, although disappointed in the loss of the override, is moving forward, accepting the will of the public.

"We realize that whatever this budget lays out becomes the academic direction of our district in the upcoming year," she said. "We are disappointed we didn't get the override because it would have brought back a lot."

Ms. Clenchy said the budget cuts are a continuation of what occurred the previous fiscal year, when 20 layoff letters were sent out and about 10 people were restored. With cuts this year, veteran employees are being let go. She said a maintenance worker with 10 years in the district was let go. The district also cut one custodian and all summer hours.

Ms. Clenchy said the district was able to maintain a full complement of academic programs but will delay implementing new initiatives, including a teacher evaluation process.

In the Narragansett Regional District, the most visible cut is closing East Templeton Elementary School and moving 90 students into Baldwinville Elementary School. That will only cover a portion of the cuts needed to address a $900,000 shortfall after voters rejected an override June 1. Another major move was not to replace five retirees, moving teachers around to fill the more important vacant slots.

"This is the first year I have been in education we did not introduce any new teachers," Superintendent of Schools Rosali Weiss said.

The district kept physical education, music, and art, at least for this year.

"We feel they are part of a comprehensive educational program," she said.

To keep sports, Ms. Weiss said the district is charging up to $600 per family for sports and $50 for participation in any musical or drama production. Ms. Weiss said the new students in Baldwinville have not exceeded capacity, but the district is in dire need of a new elementary school and needs to move forward quickly or lose state support for the project.

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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Aug 26, 2011
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