Schools see no budget increase, 31 staffers laid off so far
By Shaun Moriarty
Citizen Chronicle Writer
SOUTHBRIDGE — After discussing possible increases to aid the public schools, the Town Council approved Monday night a $51,644,252 budget for fiscal year 2019.
The budget, which will come into play July 1, includes $26,786,735 for schools. Most of that money goes to the Southbridge Public Schools, who is working with a level-funded budget that has no increases from the current budget. The lack of additional funds has led Jeffrey Villar, the district’s state-appointed receiver/superintendent, to make significant staff cuts in order to balance the budget.
Villar told the Town Council that 31 school district employees have already been laid off, with a $450,000 deficit still being worked on. The cuts are part of a broader slashing of the school budget, he said.
“Candidly, I need $3.1 million, but I know you don’t have it,” Villar said. “We certainly need every dollar and every penny that we can get.”
He added that whatever funds are appropriated must be used “very wisely” in order to address the district’s “tremendous need.”
Town Councilor Rick Nash questioned town officials as to the ramifications of a 0.5-percent increase, roughly $133,000, to the school budget. Town Manager Ron San Angelo stated that the slim school budget increase, compounded with other budgetary factors, would result in a 3.67-percent increase to the town budget. Town Assessor Wil Cournoyer said the average homeowner tax bill is currently $3,426, while noting he had not come prepared with figures as to various tax rate ramifications of the budget vote. Nash described the budget process as “extremely difficult,” and said it “wasn’t an easy budget, I don’t think they ever are.”
Town Council Chairwoman Denise Clemence said she could not “honor an increase” to the school budget, suggesting the general public at large is more interested in road repairs.
Though the budget was passed unanimously, Councilor Esteban Carrasco, Jr., alluded to the school budget constraints as being a problem for the town going forward.
“We cannot keep digging ourselves into bigger holes,” he asserted.
Councilor Monique Manna later noted the impact an improved school district would have on the community, predicting “As soon as our schools are doing better … people are going to want to flood to our town.”