The Education Committee of the Representative Town Meeting approved an education budget of $74,180,988 Thursday, which matches the budget passed by the town council Tuesday.
A lower number that represented a two million dollar reduction was moved by representative Tim Plungis.
“I believe during this time, we have to be fiscally responsible. I think it can be done through furloughs and some penny pinching,” Plungis said.
Brian Shirvell, chairman of the education board, repeated the consequences of a budget cut of more than one million dollars.
“To get there we would have to consolidate,” he said.
Plungis suggested that more savings could be rendered through renegotiating teachers’ salaries.
“I never heard once the mention of teachers. I hear programs and cutting the school,” he said of the board's recommendations. “Those are the easy things to cut. The tough things would be to go to the teachers and say look times are tough, times are hard and we’ve go to make sure our town is not overtaxed.”
The Groton school calendar is one day more than the state minimum of 180 school days and teachers work five additional days in training throughout the year, according to Superintendent of Schools Paul Kadri.
Kadri said he couldn’t ask teachers to take furlough days without having to open up their contracts and re-negotiate each aspect.
"You have to be very savvy when trading monetary for non-monetary things."
Teachers are in the first year of a three-year contract where they accepted a zero percent increase for the first two years, a small increase the last year and a step increase in the last two years according to Shirvell.
The teachers union is the school’s largest, by far, and represents more than 400 people. The administrators contract expires in the fall, the para-professionals are in the first stages of contract negotiations, the custodians' and the secretaries’ contracts will be the last to expire said Kadri.
“A two million dollar cut is a number and for us to do that means programs. In dollars and cents, it means teacher layoffs but ultimately it means programs,” said Beth Gianacopolos, an education board member. “The one that’s nearest and dearest to my heart is full day kindergarten. I’m determined to get this for all our kids, I’m worried that’s going to be on the block.”
“These are real kids behind this number, this is real money behind this number,” said Kadri.
Representative Scott Newsome reminded the board that their budget is paid for, in part, by taxpayers of Groton.
“These are also real people being taxed. Just understand there’s a lot of pressure to be careful with people’s money,” he said.
The cost to run the district next year would decrease if the school construction plan is approved at the May 2 referendum due to savings acquired through closing West Side Middle School for renovation. According to the plan, students will be moved to Fitch Middle School and Cutler Middle School while the project is underway.
According to the board's consolidation proposal, the district would build one middle school for seventh and eighth graders on the site where Claude Chester Middle School now stands. Ultimately, Fitch Middle School and Pleasant Valley Elementary School would close permanently while Cutler Middle School is expanded and renovated into an elementary school for second through sixth grades.
S.B. Butler and West Side Middle School would be renovated and used as early childhood education centers. Mary Morrison and Charles Barnum would remain elementary schools for second through sixth graders and would receive small upgrades.
If the project is not approved in the referendum, the RTM may reduce or increase the school budget at the next meeting of the full group.