Springfield crowd opposes $1M school cut
By Kevin O’Connor
Staff Writer | January 17,2014
Kevin O’Connor / Staff Photo
The Springfield School Board moved its budget meeting Thursday night when a large crowd showed up to oppose an almost $1 million plan to cut nearly two dozen school staff members.
SPRINGFIELD — School leaders asked the public to focus on economics rather than emotions, positions rather than personalities. But when your town has proposed cutting nearly two dozen teachers and support staff members, facts sometimes give way to feelings.
“I’m going to cry through this whole thing,” local graduate turned educator Lindsay DeBlock said Thursday night at a hearing on what administrators call a “worst-case scenario” plan to slice almost $1 million from tax bills. “I know I’m preaching to the choir, but our students deserve a top-notch education.”
This town’s school board and superintendent aren’t eager to cut $960,376 from the 1,450-student, 359-employee, pre-K through 12th-grade system. Under the plan, the coming budget would rise just $8,233 from the current year’s $28 million — but still require a tax increase of 6.2 cents because of changing local variables in a complex state formula.
Thus was the challenge chewed over by leaders and locals inside the Springfield High School cafeteria. For two hours, a diverse crowd of 50 residents asked the board to maintain current staffing levels.
Sophomore Tre Ayer said, “Cutting taxes will benefit people now, but it won’t be helping students going to college or the job market.”
DeBlock emphasized that she’s also a taxpayer. She said, “What can we do to involve Montpelier in this decision? How do we make them feel the pain we feel?”
And retirees such as Barbara Slaton: “It greatly concerns me — I believe Springfield wants to provide a good education for our children.”
And even a former “no” voter such as business owner Bette Matulonis: “In the past, I have voted the school budget down, but listening to these people is very emotional. This is a community responsibility. It seems this is a community crisis.”
In response, school leaders said they empathized with students, staff members and taxpayers alike.
“I think our residents have a strong support for education, but they’re already taxed to their maximum,” School board member Kenneth Vandenburgh said. “No one is saying ‘I support the cuts,’ but no one is saying ‘I support a 12-cent tax increase’ either. At some point, you have to say, ‘How much can the community bear?’ I don’t want to cut a single person, but I have to be fiscally responsible.”
Under the proposal:
The kindergarten through second-grade Elm Hill primary school faces $208,510 in cuts, including two classroom teachers, two paraeducators and a mental health clinician.
The grade 3-5 Union Street elementary school faces $150,570 in cuts, including four paraeducators and a mental-health clinician, leading average class sizes to rise to 22.
The grade 6-8 Riverside Middle School faces $243,992 in cuts, including one world-language teacher, half-time teachers for language arts, math, science and social studies, and one half-time and two full-time paraeducators.
And the grade 9-12 Springfield High School faces $270,396 in cuts, including one social studies teacher, half-time teachers for English, math and Russian, one instructional assistant and the elimination of the Precision Valley alternative education program for students in danger of dropping out.
“We’ve tried to limit the damage as best as we could,” Superintendent Zachary McLaughlin said, “but this is $960,000 worth of pain.”
The school board is set to debate and decide its budget proposal at a meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Springfield High School library. Voters then will consider that plan on the March Town Meeting ballot.