More than 120 people jammed a public hearing on the proposed Groton budget Thursday, most asking the town council to spare deeper cuts and in some cases, give something back.
Dozens spoke. Many asked the council to consider restoring money for paraprofessionals in the schools, the strings program for third-grade students, and interdistrict transportation for students attending magnet schools.
“It’s too much,” Lisa Tess said of the school cuts. “It’s too much and it absolutely sickens me to think about the positions that are being cut and the programs that are being cut.”
The proposed $121.6 million town budget includes $73.66 million for education, an increase of 1.4 percent from the current year for schools. The schools’ budget nevertheless eliminates 80 salaried positions, including 50 to 60 paraprofessionals.
The overall budget represents an increase of .6 percent over current spending, and would require a 5.4 percent increase in the tax rate. The mill rate would rise from 20.22 mills to 21.31 mills, or $109 for every $100,000 of assessed value.
Leslie Spees, a teacher for 29 years, said she’s concerned about children’s safety if paraprofessionals are removed from kindergarten classrooms. One third of her kindergarten students are four years old, and she has 20 students.
A paraprofessional who spoke pointed out that she earns $10.69 an hour.
In the case of magnet school transportation, parents said the state reimburses the town for the costs, so Groton saves nothing by cutting transportation but creates a hardship for working parents.
“If this cut is carried out, the impact on my family would be devastating,” said Kheeyshia Steele. “I might have to quit my job.”
Several speakers also asked the council to support the proposed city budget, which is lower than current year.
Other speakers offered support for more playing fields and an aquatics center.
But some said Groton must stop raising taxes.
Lesley Aument said her property taxes have gone up $600 in two years.
“I know change is difficult for a lot of us, but times have changed everywhere and we need to face that,” she said. “We have to stop turning away from reality.”
Genevieve Cerf, a member of Representative Town Meeting, said taxes have doubled since she moved to town in 2000.
She added that Pfizer is razing its former research headquarters and people with higher value homes are putting them on the market.
“People are just throwing up their hands and saying, ‘I can’t do it anymore'," she said.