The school committee for Bourne Public Schools wrestled for three hours Wednesday night with its budget for the coming fiscal year before finally agreeing on a number to recommend to the town administrator and Bourne Board of Selectmen.
“I am determined that this committee will not leave this room until we have a budget number to recommend to the town administrator for his meeting with the board of selectmen Thursday night,” committee chairman Matthew B. Stuck told his fellow committee members as the debate wore on.
In the end, after three failed votes, the fourth number, $20.89 million, was passed by a vote of 5-2.
“The town we live in is a very frugal town with an austere fiscal policy. We squeeze the most we can out of every dollar. I firmly believe we have reached the end of what we can do with cuts to the school’s budget,” Mr. Stuck said. “We have hit the wall. I also believe that the town is in the same position with all of the departmental budgets. Collectively we all have to have the same important conversations about what kind of town we want to be, what kind of services we want to provide. This is the joy of self-governing but it is also the challenge of self-governing.”
If approved at Town Meeting in May, the budget would require cuts to school maintenance staff, administrative staff and teachers, but would include the addition of a Science, Engineering, Technology, Arts and Math (STEAM) director.
The school committee’s budget subcommittee, comprising Mr. Stuck, Christopher Hyldburg and Catherine D. Walton came to the table with one number to recommend to their committee colleagues but it was the division between the subcommittee members themselves that caused the chain of defeated votes, time after time.
The town and Mr. Stuck’s recommendation for the school’s budget was $20.756 million. Mr. Hyldburg’s recommendation was $20.99 million and Ms. Walton’s recommendation was $21.165 million.
The only recommended budget that did not represent any cuts to staffing and included a wish list of positions for the STEAM director, a high school guidance counselor and a half-time high school art teacher was the $21,165,000 recommended by Ms. Walton.
“I don’t understand why we can’t start the conversation at the amount of money we really need to fully find our budget,” Ms. Walton said.
Ms. Walton got her answer from finance committee member Mary Jane Mastrangelo when she came up to the audience microphone and simply stated that the town has a revenue problem.
“The money is not there and we have to have a balanced budget. That’s just the way it works. Some expected revenues did not materialize. When the town has a revenue problem, the schools have a revenue problem,” Ms. Mastrangelo said.
Mr. Stuck elaborated, “We could ask the town for whatever we want but if the money isn’t there, we might as well ask for $30 million, but we are not going to get it. We have worked hard with the town and the finance committee and I still back their recommendation of $20.756 million.” Mr. Stuck continued, “We could end this discussion right now by voting for this because we know from all of the hard work we have done in the subcommittee that this is a realistic number.”
Selectman Peter Meier came to the microphone next and stated, “I don’t want to have a number that divides the town the same way that we were divided in 2009 over a similar situation. There may be more discussions we can have with the finance committee on where to find the money. I will ask the town to continue the discussions on where to find more revenue, but as elected officials we have to make tough choices.”
After the third defeated vote, Ms. Mastrangelo came back to the microphone and asked the committee if they could consider a compromise number somewhere in the middle.
After a review of what such a compromise would mean to personnel cuts, the final yes vote by the committee supported the budget that balances the town’s request with an additional one for more money to hire a STEAM director.
“The votes are not over. Ultimately it only matters what happens on Town Meeting floor,” Mr. Stuck said.
The budget subcommittee meets again next Thursday to review what the town administrator and board of selectmen, and finance committee do with their recommendation over the next week.