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LUNENBURG – Facing what was once a $1.5 million projected shortfall, but now looks like a $1.3 million gap, the Lunenburg School Committee heard the public’s thoughts on the impact of the proposed cuts that are under consideration.
Parents and students voiced concerns about the impacts on athletics, the music program, and special education programming, and a group of parents and two school committee members spoke favorably on the potential of organizing a group to initiate a Proposition 2 and ½ override.
“This is me speaking as a citizen of the town of Lunenburg, and not a school committee member, but I think it is absolutely clear to me that this town needs to change the way that they fund public schools, at least temporarily,” School committee secretary Anthony Sculimbrene said. “We need to organize and pass an override. If you do not have a child in the schools, be selfish. Your number one most valuable asset for the vast majority of the people of Lunenburg, just like the vast majority of the people in this country, is your house.”
“Time and again studies have proven the contribution to education in public schools in a local community is the very best way to improve the value of your home. A study by the Federal government said that every dollar that is spent on local education (increases the value of your home). If you had a contractor that could make an addition to your house that could make its value increase that much, every person that had the expendable cash would make that choice every time. So if you do not have a child in (these schools) and are a person of retirement age, and thinking about what financial planning looks like, adding money to the school budget is adding money to your most valuable asset. You need to do this as a town.”
School committee member Peter Beardmore during public comment said that although he would vote in favor for a Proposition 2 ½ override, he says with the tax debacle at the lakes, that there is no appetite for additional taxes levied in the community, and that there is a high degree of mistrust between taxpayers with the government over taxes.
Lunenburg parent Mandy Gilman said the committee needed to reach out to the town’s legislative delegation to receive more funding. She advocated the school community being a unified voice, and if an override was needed, she would support it because the loss of 20 positions was unacceptable. Gilman later added that teachers shouldn’t have to live in a 2 and ½ percent world.
Following other comments supporting an override another parent asked how to initiate a Proposition 2 ½ override, to which chair Carol Archambault directed the parent to Town Hall, stating that anyone that’s a resident could start the process.
Lunenburg Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Kate Burnham said that the high expenses and budget cuts could spill over into the coming years but told parents and community members that the staff will do its best to continue to meet high academic goals.
“We are facing limited resources,” Burnham said. “There are going to be limited resources for FY25, FY26 and FY27. What I said when I came here and presented my first budget, is we will do the very best we can with whatever we have.”
Other parents advocated seeking more grant funding, but during the budget presentation Burnham said that the school department explores every grant possible that aligns with its goals.
Ana Lockwood, a resident of Lunenburg, echoed the repeated sentiment that Lunenburg has a long history of spending less on education and getting great academic results. She advocated for cost savings by creating a grant subcommittee of parents, using parent volunteers to fill needed staffing roles, and finding synergies between the Town side of government to cover services like plowing and maintaining facilities that could lead to cost savings in equipment.
Many students and parents weighed in on the proposed cuts to the music program, saying it “breaks my heart,” and “band is a safe haven”. Parent Laura Barooshian has a high school student and a middle school student and said the music program is “tremendous” and “losing that culture would be a loss for the community.”
Amy King has two students that compete in 3 seasons of sports at the high school and said the news of the cuts was “a surprise” and that the cuts to athletics were “egregious” as they serve 45-53% of the high school population. King had concerns about the social emotional wellbeing of athletes with the impact on sports.
Sondria Harp said that the cuts to special education “shocked my soul.” She took issue with the potential cuts to paraprofessionals who she said were essential, and called it alarming to be removing a Board Certified Behavioral Analyst (BCBA).
Lou Franco said that the entire select board hasn’t weighed in on this funding shortfall and that there are five members of that board not one. He said public education is essential as a constitutional republic relies on an educated populace.
For a story featuring the status of the budgeting process, including the current fate of the athletics program, music program and a BCBA, stop by your local newsstand February 2 in Lunenburg and pick up a copy of the Lunenburg Ledger or visit www.lunenburgledger.com and navigate to subscriptions to subscribe.