Norton Schools Face Budget Deficit, Planning Board Deliberates Options

The Norton Planning Board recently addressed a projected budget deficit that could lead to significant cuts in the local school district, potentially impacting staffing, educational programs, and essential services. The deficit was a surprise revelation during the meeting with the town manager and is expected to result in a 12% decrease in general education services. The board engaged in a discussion on the financial challenges facing the district, including the need for increased funding for mandated education services and general education needs.

The superintendent’s presentation of the 2025 school budget was a focal point of the meeting, as it highlighted the proposed level service budget and the associated costs, among which special education and transportation expenses were notable increases. The board members participated in the discussion, asking for clarifications on specific budget items and expressing concerns about the financial implications of the proposed increases.

During the meeting, board members characterized the budget situation as catastrophic and unprecedented, with potential repercussions on staffing and the quality of educational programs. The Norton Teachers Association president underscored the impact of budget cuts on school programs and services, advocating for a level-funded budget.

The financial strain was further complicated by the board’s discussion on the challenges of securing grants due to Norton’s high median income and the reduction of certain state and federal grants. The board expressed frustration with the limited support from higher government levels, particularly in the context of funding special education and out-of-district placements. In light of these issues, the board considered various approaches, including reallocating funds from other town departments, implementing an override to increase taxes, and presenting two budgets to the town—one reflecting necessary departmental budgets and another with cuts.

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Community members expressed concern about the portrayal of special education as a budgetary burden, emphasizing the students’ right to appropriate education. The possibility of a tax override was mentioned, acknowledging the community’s role in decision-making regarding such measures.

The board also discussed the physical condition of school facilities, with specific mention of malfunctioning theater lights at the Norton Middle School. The timing and potential impact of staff layoffs were debated, with differing views on when layoff notices should be issued. The board also discussed the importance of transparency in communicating with the community about the budget implications and the difficult decisions that lie ahead.

In addition to the budget discussions, the meeting covered the potential creation of an access road to Second Nature Farm and community garden areas for educational purposes. Safety implications, such as increased traffic and the need for proper fencing, were points of contention. The principal of the school expressed support for the educational and community benefits of the initiative but stressed the need for thorough planning to address safety concerns.

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Another topic of interest was the update on the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) program. Dr. Eric Macky, a clinical consultant from the May Institute, presented the program’s positive outcomes, including reduced exclusionary discipline and improved testing scores. However, some members expressed concerns about the accuracy of the data and the consistency of reporting practices across classrooms, calling for a deeper analysis to understand the impact of the PBIS program.

The board also reviewed the process of selecting a new ELA program for the district. After an 18-month effort involving various phases, the board recommended the “Into Reading” program due to its alignment with foundational literacy skills and the depth of its materials. Nevertheless, concerns about the financial implications of the program, which costs $335,000, were raised, leading to a proposal to table the decision until more funding information became available.

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.

Town Manager:
Michael Yunits
Planning Board Officials:
Timothy M. Griffin, Allen Bouley, Laura Parker, Wayne Graf, James Artz, Eric Norris, Steven Warchal, Bryan Carmichael (Administrative Assistant)

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