School district faced with a reduced budget for 2021

Jun 11, 2020

The Town of Wareham has seen a drop in revenue during the coronavirus pandemic, leaving school committee members with the difficult decision of approving a 2021 fiscal year budget that would result in the Wareham Public School District losing nearly 20 staff positions. 

On Thursday, June 11, the committee voted to approve the budget, but only after reapportioning some of the district's funds in the hopes of being able to maintain some of the lost staff. 

In late December, the school committee approved a $30,751,930 budget for the 2021 fiscal year, which officials thought would necessitate cutting about 12 staff positions.

As state and town funding has dropped in recent months, the total budget was cut even further to $29,430, 737, which would force the district to cut 18 or 19 staff.

Superintendent Kimberly Shaver-Hood said that the staff lost from the budget cut include teachers, paraprofessionals, and custodians throughout the public school system. She added that other positions will be left vacant because of retirees who can not be replaced. 

Shaver-Hood added that some of the impacts of these cutbacks include reduced support for at-risk students both for academic and behavioral purposes. Some middle school teachers will also have to teach two grade levels or subjects to compensate for the cutbacks. 

According to Shaver-Hood, these programs led to forward progress in the schools’ climate in recent years, and school officials are now concerned about maintaining that progress. 

“It’s just sad, it breaks my heart,” said School Committee Vice-Chair Apryl Rossi, adding that “it’s really disheartening that money is the reason that these kids aren’t going to have a chance to stay on the right path and get the help that they need.”

While the reduced budget was unpopular with members of the committee, they acknowledged that other town departments are also impacted by the lack of funding caused by the pandemic and economic shutdowns. They did not suggest that the school district budget was being reduced at a rate that was unfair compared to the rest of the town.

Even with little to no options for getting more money from the town, the school committee originally voted against approving the new total budget because of the unwanted cutbacks. 

School Committee Chair Michael Flaherty then suggested that the committee vote to reapportion funds from a federal coronavirus relief act. 

The district received  about $507,000 from the act, and originally planned to use about $300,000 of it for the 2021 fiscal year to save money for 2022 when the new elementary school on Minot Avenue is set to open. 

The committee voted to use all of the money from the federal relief act in an effort to maintain staff. 

After making this adjustment, the committee voted to approve the total budget, now including the additional funds from the relief act. 

The budget will next be voted on by Wareham residents at the Town Meeting on Monday, June 15.