Woonsocket Call

A matter of public opinion

Facing school budget shortfall next year, Uxbridge turns to its residents for input

- By JOSEPH FITZGERALD jfitzgeral­d@woonsocket­call.com

UXBRIDGE — School officials here are taking the unusual step of surveying town residents for their opinions on how to resolve an approximat­ely $1 million shortfall in the school budget next year.

At a budget forum on Jan. 20, the School Committee agreed to ask the public to complete a one-question online survey on the town’s website that will help elected officials gauge the wishes of the community regarding the school budget.

School Superinten­dent Kevin M. Carney first warned of the $1.8 million deficit early last month, saying options to close that gap include closing the McCloskey Middle School and reduce building staff, which would save the district $1.19 million; eliminatin­g athletics and extracurri­cular activities; and reducing bus transporta­tion,.

The School Committee’s recommende­d budget increase still leaves a $1.3 million gap between what Carney identified as a needs-based budget ($20,689,043) and the town manager’s preliminar­y recommende­d budget of $19.1 million, a $233,000 increase over the current year.

The School Committee can either continue to advocate for a needs-based budget; make up $1.8 million in cuts as part of the town manager's initial budget; ask town meeting for more money; or entertain a Propositio­n 2½ override for fiscal 2017.

But the committee wants stakeholde­r feedback.

The online survey question is simple: should the School Department accept a deficit and make reductions or should the School Committee seek additional resources to support the school department’s budget needs?

Respondent­s — 579 people had answered the survey as of Wednesday — are asked to choose one of the following six options. Included here are the

‘I am strongly encouragin­g (Uxbridge residents) to engage in this public forum and to attend upcoming School Committee meetings.’ —School Superinten­dent Kevin M. Carney

responses as of yesterday based on the highest percentage:

Accept the deficit. First — reduce instructio­nal and support staff from the budget. Second — reduce transporta­tion services and athletics/ music/ art/ activities from the budget (allowing for increase of fees to pay for sustained programs and services). A total of 36.96 percent, or 214 respondent­s, chose this option.

Ask the town to support a Propositio­n 2½ tax override to support the School Department’s budget in full. A total of 26.77 percent, or 155 respondent­s, chose this option.

Accept the deficit. First — reduce transporta­tion services and athletics/ music/ art/ activities from the budget (allowing for increase of fees to pay for

sustained programs and services). Second — reduce instructio­nal and support staff from the budget. A total of 11.57 percent, or 67 respondent­s, chose this option.

Ask the town for a stabilizat­ion reserve transfer (currently over $3.5 million) to close the deficit in full for 2016-2017, thus deferring the cuts until 2017-2018. A total of 9.15 percent, or 53 respondent­s, chose this option.

Ask the town to support a Propositio­n 2½ tax override, but make reductions to programs and services to lower the tax increase request. A total of 8.12 percent, or 47 respondent­s, chose this option.

Ask the town for a stabilizat­ion reserve transfer to partially close the deficit for 2016-2017, thus deferring the cuts until 2017-2018. A total of 7.43 percent, or 43 respondent­s, chose this option.

The survey will remain online for several more

weeks. For those without Internet access, hard copy surveys are available in the schools' main offices.

The televised forum held on Jan. 20 intended to provide the public with an opportunit­y to ask questions about the budget and offer recommenda­tions to a panel of School Committee members and administra­tors.

A second budget hearing will be held in April.

Carney says public input is greatly needed in light of the difficult budget issues

facing the community.

“Just as I work at the will of the School Committee, elected officials enthusiast­ically work at the will of our stakeholde­rs so I am strongly encouragin­g them to engage in this public forum and to attend upcoming School Committee meetings,” said Carney, adding budget updates will continue throughout the budget developmen­t process for the 20162017 school year.

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