Winchester Schools Makes Final Pitch for Override Vote
Mar 23, 2019 09:04AM
● By Lisa Redmond
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With Winchesters residents poised to vote on a $10 million Proposition 2 ½override at the Town Election on Tuesday, March 26 school administrators made a pitch for its passage at the Winchester School Funding Forum last week to explain the “heartbreaking’’ choices that will be made without the additional funding.
As school enrollment grows, special needs cost soar and personnel costs rise, Winchester School Superintendent Judy Evans told the forum without additional funding the schools will experience staffing cuts, increased class sizes, elimination of some sports teams and a lack of electives.
The Board of Selectmen is proposing voters pass a $10 million override, with $8 million being funneled to the schools to be divided between FY20 and FY21 budgets, and $2 million going to fund the town’s capital expenses.
With an override, the $122.4 million FY19 total budget (municipal and schools) would increase to $129.6 million or a 5.85 percent increase in FY20. The average taxpayer with a home worth $500,000 will pay an extra $650 in taxes spread out over two years.
The results of that ballot question will determine which budget figure is put before Town Meeting on May 6.
While Winchester residents have been “very supportive of the schools, we have come up against some challenges,’’ she said.
“Winchester is a high performing school district,’’ often being compared high-caliber school districts such as Lexington, Concord, Acton and Lincoln, Evans said. But Winchester is at the bottom 15 percent of per pupil spending in the state by spending $2,600 per pupil, she said.
“The last few years we have only been able to keep up with the minimal needs of teachers’ salary and special education mandates,” Evans said. “There aren’t a lot of places to cut.”
Personnel costs account for half of the increase with special needs mandates a close second. Since the town lacks an industrial tax base, budgets are primarily funded through property taxes.
Winchester High School Principal Dennis Mahoney said a lack of funding has meant larger class sizes. While other schools offer teacher-student ratios of 1-12, Winchester has class sizes of 1-25 or up to 30 students in some classes.
“On paper that doesn’t sound like a big deal, but there are significant ramifications,’’ he said. “We are looking for a connection between the teacher and a student. If the teacher has 30 students, some kids get lost in the shuffle.’’
Mahoney assured parents the 1,400 students who attend WHS will have the courses they need to meet the graduation requirements, but students may be squeezed out of electives because there isn’t room.
And innovative programs such as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), which operates on a shoestring, could be lost.
The school sports program may be another casualty without an override. Winchester High School offers the third highest number of sports programs in the state, but some sports teams or junior varsity teams may be eliminated and user fees may be increased for the remaining sports.
Mahoney said he would like to expand the electives offered, such as drama. “We put on plays and musicals,’’ he said, “but we don’t have any drama courses.’’
“We feel sports, playing in the band, performing in the play or belonging to a club are an essential part of the high school experience,’’ Evans said.
One part of the budget that is currently at zero is furniture replacement, Evans said. “We rely on left over, half broken and discarded furniture,’’ she said. Some student desks are “decades old,’’ she said.
Evans said she was “shocked’’ to find out that middle school parents are buying paper for classes, and some parents and teachers buy the art supplies.
What has help fund some of the extras is a total of $1.6 million in gifts from organizations, such as the PTA, over the last four years.
Heidi Driscoll, president of the Winchester High School PTA, said people have been “generous,’’ but she warned, “It’s extra money we can’t rely on.’’
Evans added, “Public schools should be funded by public dollars.’’
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