HOLDEN, Mass. — The Wachusett Regional School Committee voted 15-3 to reduce its proposed fiscal year 2013 budget to $79,064,670 Monday night, making significant cuts to district staff.
The FY13 Budget saw a reduction of $220,000, and Holden's total assessment for FY13 was reduced to $21,736,184 — a difference of about $179,000.
After the originally proposed budget failed to get support in Rutland and Paxton, Wachusett Superintendent Thomas Pandiscio had recommended reducing to Rutland's proposed number, believing that there was no tenable reason to try to put forward a compromised number.
Furthermore, after recent rumors of budget mistakes were confirmed and Business Manager Peter Brennan was subsequently terminated, members of the school committee expressed concerns that the body has lost credibility.
"It kills me that we have to take a dime off the budget, but at this point, especially in light of the errors by the business manager, our credibility is at an all-time low, and I don't believe we could get another penny from the town even if they could afford it," said committee member Stacey Jackson.
An error in the fiscal year 2012 budget led to an over-expenditure to the tune of $1.2 million, and an additional $1.4 Million shortfall in employee benefits and insurance called for "significant and substantial reductions" to FY13 according to Superintentendent Thomas Pandiscio.
The superintendent said the reductions are "to the salary line, district administration, instructional support, regular education, instructional technology, instructional support, special education and vocational education, as well as buildings and grounds and reduction of late buses and reductions in the interest expense that was associated with the Jefferson School renovation."
The severity of the cuts were difficult for Jackson, who explained that "as a parent who is very involved in the special ed community, the loss of the director of developmental programs is a challenge."
Additionally, the cut of the business manager position made Jackson uncomfortable.
"My concern is we've had a couple issues with the business manager, God knows what would happen if we didn't have one," said Jackson, adding that she was glad to see that the Business and Finance subcommittee would be giving consideration to that reduction.
While the cuts were tough, Jackson said her primary reason for passing the budget Monday night was that another amount would likely get voted down in Rutland and Paxton, resulting in the Commissioner of Education having to come in to make reductions later in the year.
"He's going to come in and he can't create money in Rutland and Paxton. He can't force overrides, so he's going to forces us to make cuts, and at that point we'd have already spent six months worth of expenditures, so we'd be making cuts half way through the school year," she said. "I don't want to tell a first grade child 'Sorry, honey, your teacher isn't Mrs. Smith anymore."
Committee member Erik Scheinfeldt was also in support of the reduced budget.
"The voters have spoken in Paxton and Rutland, and though I don't necessarily agree with them, I think we have to respect the voters' decision. I live in Holden, but we also live in a region and you have to respect the regional agreement."
Scheinfeldt added "I don't think Rutland is entirely to blame in this. The business manager was terminated for good cause, I believe. He made a lot of mistakes with forecasting the budget and that is one of the primary reasons we're in the mess we're in."
However committee member Deidre Kosky voted down the budget, explaining that in light of all that had gone on she could not bring herself to vote in support of the district's recommendation.
"I don't want the children to lose out, but in life there's a thing called accountability, and I don't think anybody's been accountable for anything."
Selecman Bob Lavigne was happy to see that the school committee passed the budget.
"Town meeting spoke and whether or not you liked the vote from the towns, I'm not for going back to town meeting over and over again until you get the vote you want," he said. "Town Meeting spoke, and so I was appreciative the school committee saw the forest through the trees and got the money in."
Selectman Anthony Renzoni also believed the school committee made the right decision.
"We're all making hard choices. I don't have the exact percentage, but I'll tell you that our town is increasing 2 1/2 to 3 percent each year, and the budget approved tonight is going to come in well over 3 percent," he said.
"They're going to have live within their means," Renzoni continued. "This is going to be a cakewalk compared to next year. Next year, before we begin the budgeting process the Town of Holden is about a million dollars in the hole, so I think immediately — I'm talking this fall — we start working with the five towns to go ahead and come to some agreement and consensus on this budget going forward."