Norton Faces School Budget Deficit, Discusses Potential Cuts

The Norton School Committee’s recent meeting was dominated by the issue of the school district’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year, with discussions focusing on a potential 12% increase to $38,873,431 to maintain level services. This increase is proposed to address the expiration of Esser Grant funds and the rising costs for salaries, special education placements, transportation, and operations. However, alongside the proposed increase, there is a looming potential deficit which could force a 12% cut in general education services, potentially leading to the elimination of numerous teaching positions.

The committee grappled with the financial challenges, acknowledging the limited flexibility in the budget and the inevitability of tough decision-making due to fiscal constraints. The gravity of the situation was expressed through a candid recognition of the possible backlash from the community and the difficult judgments that lie ahead. The members noted that the final budget decision rests with the citizens of Norton and stressed the importance of transparency in the process.

Adding to the financial strain, the committee also debated the increasing costs of special education services and the impact this has on the town’s budget. There was a discussion about the state’s responsibility in funding these mandates and the committee’s frustration with managing the rising costs and the limited control over budget allocations for these mandated expenses. A proposal was put forth to consider an override on the ballot, allowing townspeople to vote on additional funding, although doubts were expressed regarding the feasibility and timing of such a measure.

The potential impact of budget decisions on town services was a point of concern. The committee detailed the various components of the budget, emphasizing the importance of day-to-day operations, special education, and unmet needs such as additional staffing for kindergarten and library media specialists. The projected deficit has led to the contemplation of drastic cuts, including the possibility of a 12% reduction in general education services, which raised alarm among the committee members.

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The meeting attendees, including community members and a representative from the Norton Teachers Association, provided various perspectives on the budget situation. The idea of seeking grants from state or federal levels to offset costs was raised, but the challenges in qualifying for competitive grants due to Norton’s suburban community status were highlighted. The critical need for all committee members to visit the school buildings to make informed decisions was also discussed.

In addition to budgetary concerns, the committee deliberated on the Norton BFW Carnival, set to take place from June 19 to 23, 2024, and recognized Mr. B as the 2024 Massachusetts School Assistant Principal of the Year. Notably, the committee reviewed and approved the school expense warrants for February 29, 2024, totaling $387,500, and the school payroll warrant for February 22, 2024, totaling $1,222,740.40.

The condition of the schools and the need for repairs and renovations were also brought to the table, with specific mention of concerns about the Middle School theater lights and the timing of budget cut announcements. The potential for layoffs and the desire to provide staff with advanced notice were also key points of discussion, highlighting the impact on staff and students.

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The proposal to create an access road to Second Nature farm and community garden areas for educational purposes sparked a debate on safety implications and the potential impact on the school’s property. Safety concerns, particularly regarding unauthorized access to school grounds and student safety, were at the forefront of the discussion, with the committee acknowledging the necessity for further planning to address these issues.

Furthermore, the committee engaged in a discussion on the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) program, considering its impact on student behavior and the fidelity of its implementation across Norton schools. Dr. Eric Mackey, a clinical consultant from the May Institute, provided a data-driven overview of PBIS, noting the positive outcomes and emphasizing the importance of consistent implementation.

Finally, the selection of a new Elementary English Language Arts (ELA) curriculum was a subject of intense deliberation. The committee chose “Into Reading” over “My View” due to its stronger foundational literacy component for K-2 students. However, concerns about funding for the new curriculum and its potential impact on teaching methodologies and positions led to a decision to table the approval for two weeks until more information on funding could be gathered.

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Note: This meeting summary was generated by AI, which can occasionally misspell names, misattribute actions, and state inaccuracies. This summary is intended to be a starting point and you should review the meeting record linked above before acting on anything you read. If we got something wrong, let us know. We’re working every day to improve our process in pursuit of universal local government transparency.

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