School board nixes start time changes, citing budget

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The Canton School Committee, in a lengthy and difficult discussion last week, decided to shelve its earlier decision to alter the start times at the middle and high schools in order to show the Finance Committee a good faith effort toward closing its nearly $1 million budget gap.

rodman1The surprising reversal, which comes just seven weeks after the board voted 4-0 to implement the changes, means that both CHS and GMS will continue with the status quo for the foreseeable future. Under the previously approved plan, which followed 18 months of investigation and research by an appointed subcommittee, Canton High School would have started 40 minutes later while the middle school would have started five minutes later.

By scrapping the start time changes, which would have required additional bus drivers, and by reducing supplies ($86,000), the committee was able to shave approximately $441,000 off its projected deficit, which stood at $990,000 when the evening began.

The current FY16 budget target, set by town finance officials, is $36.168 million — a $400,000 increase over the initial target but significantly lower than the “catch-up” budget ($37.16M) submitted by the School Committee in January.

While eliminating the proposed start time changes, the committee decided to keep the bulk of its personnel increases, which are aimed at reducing class sizes at the middle and high schools while adding some new classes at CHS, particularly in the World Languages Department. Almost $1 million in new budget money is earmarked toward setting new contracts with school unions.

School Committee Chairman Cindy Thomas, in her last meeting as a member before the April 7 election, started the discussion by expressing a willingness to close the budget gap. Members Bob Golledge Jr. and Mike Loughran ultimately agreed, while members Reuki Schutt and John Bonnanzio elected to stay the course and fight to keep both the start time changes and the proposed new hires.

“Our job is to advocate for the best school system,” said Schutt. “Nothing in this budget is excessive. This is not a Cadillac budget.”

Bonnnazio said town meeting voters should decide the fate of the budget. He later suggested a cut of $159,000 to bring the total to an even $37 million.

The committee plans to meet again with the Revenue Forecast Committee and the FinCom in a final attempt to gain more budget money.

To meet the committee’s current budget of $36.72 million, the town would have to authorize use of its cash reserves. Finance Director Jim Murgia told the Citizen that as of March 27, the town had certified free cash reserves of $3,271,361. The stabilization fund (set up for financial emergencies) has a current balance of $5.1 million. Murgia said the town also considers the assessors’ overlay account ($3.2M) as one of its cash reserves; however, those monies are not available until the Board of Assessors declares a surplus, which has not occurred. Murgia said the town tries to keep between 10 and 15 percent of its budget in reserves to maintain its top AAA bond rating. The town’s current reserve level is around 13 percent, according to Murgia.

See this week’s Canton Citizen for more highlights from the March 26 School Committee meeting, including details on the elementary start time rotation. Click here to order your subscription today.

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