With Stoneham’s Town Meeting looming next week, the School Committee made the finalization of the 2011-12 operating budget its top priority during their meeting on Thursday night.
The proposed budget going into the May 2 Town Meeting is $23,003,917, nearly $850,000 less than last year’s amount.
While more than $500,000 of the proposed cuts came from non-employee-based costs such as reductions on school supplies and the heating budget, just under $325,000 of the proposed cuts come from eliminating the equivalent of approximately six full-time teachers; however, the actual number of people to be laid off may vary from that estimate due to the fact that some positions proposed to be eliminated included part-time staff.
Many of the proposed staff cuts will be coming from Stoneham’s elementary schools, including the elimination of the elementary school-level Italian program, as well as eliminating line items for the vacant positions of Stoneham High School monitor and a district-wide maintenance staff member the board tried to fill following cuts in previous years.
All of the district’s administrators were on hand in case the School Committee needed any last-minute answers to questions regarding how these cuts would impact their respective departments, but the only comment was School Committee member Marie Christie’s query to Stoneham High School Athletic Director David Pignone on the effect of $50,000 in cuts to coaching stipends.
The discussion over coaches developed into a debate over the abilities of volunteers in coaching positions, with Christie believing volunteers would be less reliable and potentially dangerous, while School Committee chairperson Shelly MacNeill trusted the vetting process conducted by Pignone for personnel and citing her desire to minimize teacher layoffs through any means, including more volunteer coaches.
Pignone told the board he would try to minimize the impacts the potential cuts would have by shifting money from other areas such as reducing transportation costs and non-essential equipment purchases, but he stated that cuts would not be made in any areas that could endanger student athletes and he cited his preference for paid head coaches from past experience.
“I think with volunteers you get what you pay for at times,” Pignone said. “And as well all know, competing in the extremely competitive Middlesex League, we’ve already got an uphill battle being the smallest school. We’re trying to get the highest quality coaches we can get and most of them are working for pennies anyway.”
The cuts throughout the budget became necessary following Stoneham’s multi-million dollar budget deficit after the loss of one-time revenue sources used for the current fiscal year.
There was a unanimous feeling of disappointment over the cuts and a desire that further cuts won’t be made in the near future.
“I’m convinced that this directly affects the reputation of the town and directly affects property values,” said School Committee member David Maurer. “I see it as pennywise and pound foolish.”