Residents have gathered the 100 signatures needed to get a petitioners article for a Proposition 2 1/2 override on the April Special Town Meeting warrant.
The override would raise property taxes beyond the allowed 2 1/2 percent in order to fully fund next year’s school budget.
To maintain “level services” the school needs an extra $1.6 million over the $42.5 million that the town manager and selectmen have proposed for the school’s FY15 budget.
The school is facing $2.3 million in additional costs for salary increases and rising special education expenses, and town hall has proposed a $780,000 budget increase.
Superintendent Bonny L. Gifford has proposed cutting 44 staff positions, including 15 teachers, to balance next year’s budget.
Following a public information session on the school budget Wednesday night, Linda D. Whitehead organized a Prop 2 1/2 override petition that circulated in town yesterday and continues today.
Ms. Whitehead is the retired music department head for Falmouth schools. She had three children and one grandchild go through the Falmouth schools.
Kelly A. Welch, mother of two children at Mullen-Hall Elementary School and a town meeting member, contacted Ms. Whitehead to get a copy of the petition and collected signatures from fellow parents in Coffee Obsession on Queens Buyway and outside Mullen-Hall yesterday.
As much as I understand that people are on fixed incomes, we really need to talk about an override.
Wearing snow boots and holding a blue clipboard, Ms. Welch collected signatures from parents as they came to pick up their children.
Ms. Welch said the proposed cuts are unacceptable “and just sitting back and taking it is not the right message.”
Dr. Gifford and town manager Julian M. Suso are new to town, Ms. Welch pointed out. “They’re new here,” she said. “They need to understand what our priorities are, and what we will do to support our schools.”
Many parents arrived and sought out Ms. Welch because they had received her e-mail and Facebook posting announcing the petition and where she would be collecting signatures throughout the day.
“Boy, that e-mail went round and round this morning,” Ms. Welch said. “Thank God for social media.”
Karen S. Heard, mother of two children in the school system, signed the petition.
“I don’t think the kids can take that many cuts. It’s going to be devastating,” Ms. Heard said. “As much as I understand that people are on fixed incomes, we really need to talk about an override.”
As of 9 AM this morning, Ms. Welch said she had 85 signatures in her possession. Ms. Whitehead said she had 60 signatures. 100 are needed to get the petition on the April Town meeting warrant. Deadline for submitting the signatures is 4:30 PM at town hall today.
Ms. White said she will be outside Stop & Shop today until 3:30 PM continuing to collect signatures.
The exact language on the petition is as follows: “To see if the town will raise and appropriate or transfer from available funds a sum to supplement the school department’s operating budget for fiscal year 2015 contingent upon the passage of a Proposition 2 1/2 referendum question, or take any other action relative thereto.”
An override requires both Town Meeting approval, and a majority vote in a town-wide ballot in May.
Dr. Gifford responded to the petition this morning, saying that “citizens have a right” to follow whatever path they deem best, and that “when the town has decided what’s good for them, we will work with that.”
She said she believes that as preliminary numbers in next year’s budget become more definite that the budget situation may improve. For example, she said, the state just announced a $300,000 increase in Falmouth’s portion of school state aid.
Dr. Gifford said she is meeting with Mr. Suso on Monday and is “becoming hopeful” that the situation may not be as bad as first anticipated.
Next week, she said, she would have “a better idea” of the exact deficit that the school is facing, and it may be less than the $1.6 million so far discussed. How much less, she did not want to guess.