Gamble by PTO backfires
Education backers had asked parents to defeat the proposed school budget and send a message the spending total was too low. But the plan didn't work.
On Tuesday, the $49.85 million school budget proposed by the Board of Finance failed by a vote of 1,583 to 1,220.
An advisory question on whether more money should be spent on schools was shot down as well, 1,460 to 1,270.
Meanwhile, the proposed $31.9 million town budget passed 1,663 to 1,158. But with the school budget defeated, the entire budget fails and goes back to the Board of Finance for revisions. After that, the Town Council will schedule a second referendum.
The Board of Finance has a scheduled meeting tonight and will likely discuss the results of the vote. "Back to the drawing board," Mayor Patricia Murphy said.
She said she was disappointed the budget did not pass on the first try and that it's likely more cuts will be made, particularly in the school budget.
The $81.8 million town and school budget proposal represented an increase of about $3.2 million over this year's spending plan. If it had been approved, taxes would have increased by about 3.9 percent. A homeowner with property assessed at $200,000 would have paid about $204 more in taxes.
At polling places Tuesday, people seemed relatively comfortable with the town budget, but gave mixed reviews to the school budget. Some said they voted for the budget because they did not want to see the spending total reduced. Others said they voted "no" to support the PTO effort, even though they feared it was a risky move. A few said they were torn between rising taxes and giving the town and schools more money.
Joseph Ribeiro, who challenged Republican state Rep. Clark Chapin last year, said he voted in favor of the budget at the Hill and Plain School. He has encouraged other residents to do the same because he feared otherwise the schools would take a financial hit.
"I hope they don't regret it,'' Ribeiro said of the PTO "Vote No" strategy, which he felt might also be compromised by a weak voter turnout.
Fellow voter John Phelan, 72, said he was pretty much satisfied with the proposed budget and voted to pass it.
"I wish the education budget was a little higher, but probably a 'no' vote would not bring that result," he said.
At Northville School, where some parents cast votes before a school concert and arts festival, Kathy Rehaag said she voted in favor of the town budget and against the school budget, which she viewed as too low.
"It's ridiculous," she said of the Board of Finance's decision to cut $750,000 from the proposed school budget. She predicted that if the budget continues to get sliced, the district will lose good teachers and classroom sizes will mushroom.
PTO official Lisa Terlizzi said she was not surprised the school budget was defeated, but she was disappointed more people didn't vote for additional spending on the advisory question. She wonders if some voters might not have understood what the question meant.
Either way, though, she said the PTO stands behind its decision and will continue to fight against further school budget reductions. "We're in it for the long haul," she said.
Murphy said her hope is that the PTO and Board of Education can work together to approve the next budget. What the final number will be she could not speculate.
Board of Finance Vice Chairman Robert Sherry said he was surprised with the two school votes. He expects the board to consider further reductions. He would not guess at a final number.
The Board of Finance recommended a $750,000 cut from the proposed Board of Education proposal of $50.6 million. School officials, the teachers' union and the PTO criticized the total as too low. School Superintendent JeanAnn Paddyfote has said the district needs at least $48.2 million to keep its current staffing and program levels.
"Yikes!" Republican Town Council member Patricia Sherry said of the results.
"It's just too bad," she said. "I think there were a lot of cuts to both sides. The Board of Finance now will have to make a decision on what to do from here. The voters didn't give them much of a choice."