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State cuts are seen as blow to schools.

Byline: Paula J. Owen

PRINCETON - The town is asking the state to reconsider reductions in the budget that amount to a 12 percent reduction in aid to Princeton.

At this week's board meeting, Selectman Alan Sentkowski said Gov. Deval L. Patrick's proposed cuts are troubling and they they disproportionately cut state money going to Princeton.

"Our local aid was cut by 12 percent, when it was advertised it wasn't cut," he said.

Cuts in pyaments in lieu of taxes for state-owned land in the budget decrease Princeton's aid by $49,000, Town Administrator John I. Lebeaux said. Moreover, a 44 percent cut to transportation in the Wachusett Regional School District budget reduces school funding by more than $1 million, Mr. Lebeaux said.

Officials called cuts to the regional school district inequitable.

"It doesn't affect the municipal budget immediately and directly, but it affects the quality of education for Princeton students," Mr. Lebeaux said.

He explained that although the state did not cut Chapter 70 money for education, the cut to transportation will have to be made up somewhere and would affect educational programs.

"You can't just eliminate $1 million worth of bus students," he said.

The district sent a letter to the state, Mr. Lebeaux said, expressing outrage over the $1 million cut.

Because of Wachusett Regional's size, the cut was more significant than in other regional districts, Mr. Lebeaux said. It is one of the biggest regional districts of the 83 in the state, he said. The governor's proposed budget cuts reduced aid in transportation to regional school districts by $18 million - the $1 million cut to Wachusett Regional is 6 percent of the overall reduction, he said.

Selectmen said officials need to point out the inequity between regional districts losing state money and nonregional districts not having to share in the burden.

Selectman Joseph H. O'Brien said all districts should share in the cuts, not just those with regional schools, or the state should apply some stimulus money to school transportation to reduce the burden.

"It's shortsighted, and I don't think anyone thought this through," Mr. O'Brien said.

He added that the district might consider asking the town to give back the $35,000 the district just returned for an over-assessment of the district's debt service.

"They can ask for it back, but it takes a town meeting vote," he said, "... and we can't just take debt-excluded money and give it back to them for operations."

Additionally, Mr. O'Brien said, the other three towns in the district must also agree to give back the amounts they were over-assessed.

In attempting to get the state to reconsider the cuts, Selectman Raymond A. Dennehy III said, "I don't think we are going to find any sympathy here."

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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Nov 12, 2009
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