The Silver Lake Regional School Committee met for the third week in a row on June 11 to once again reconsider their decision regarding the fy21 budget. Committee member Christopher Eklund, who was on the prevailing side of the previous week’s vote, asked for a reconsideration of that June 4 vote.
The budget process began way back in September and went from a budget version 1 to a budget version 4. In January the committee considered a budget with a 3.31 percent increase over the fy20 budget of $25,992,354. On March 12, the committee voted on a fourth iteration of the budget in the amount of $26,698,578 for an increase of 2.71 percent over the fy20 budget. According to committee Chair Jason Fraser, the March 12 budget was lauded by Halifax, Kingston, and Plympton. Everything changed, however, following that meeting and the state essentially shut down due to the pandemic.
The state has until July 1 to offer a revised budget that will reflect the short- and long-term fiscal effects of the pandemic. The extent of the cuts to local aid are unknown complicating the towns’ and schools’ budget processes.
In May, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) requested that districts provide them with a budget despite not knowing what kind of cuts will occur to Chapter 70. As a result, the regional school committee met on May 28 to vote a revised fy21 budget. Prior to that meeting, Superintendent Jill Proulx had presented nearly a million dollars in potential cuts to the version of the budget previously voted on by the committee. At the May 28 meeting the committee voted to approve the March 12 number as a sort of act of rebellion against DESE. Their plan at the time was to ask the towns to vote no to the budget at their respective town meetings. The no vote would then force a one-twelfth budget which would default back to fy20 levels. The committee hoped that this would buy them additional time to create a budget that would reflect actual numbers from the state.
The regional school committee met again on June 4 and voted to rescind their vote from the previous week. With the exception of committee members Gordon Andrews and Leslie-Ann McGee the committee voted through the fy20 budget number of $25,992,354 which represented a $706,000 reduction from the March 12 budget. At the time, Fraser cited the desire to work with the three towns in providing them with the requested combined reduction to their assessments of $525,000 as the impetus for reconsidering the May 28 vote. Fraser said that he wanted to provide the communities with a number that they could approve at town meeting. Many on the committee felt that it wouldn’t be fair to ask the communities to hold a special town meeting just to vote through the final budget number when the time arose. In addition to the reduction to the assessments, the budget also included a reduction of 2.5 percent in state aid. This estimate was a point of contention on the dissenting side of the vote as it is likely far lower than the actual reduction will be once the state numbers are known.
Fraser told the committee on June 11 that following the June 4 meeting he began to receive new information including from Silver Lake counsel. In light of the new information as well as Eklund’s request for reconsideration, the committee decided to meet again on June 11 for another vote.
The committee first took a vote to rescind their vote on the budget from June 4. The motion passed unanimously as did the following vote to once again approve the March 12 number of $26,698,578 for fy21. Andrews addressed his fellow committee members saying, “Thank you to everybody on the committee for reconsidering the vote; I think it’s the right decision.” McGee, who was always against the June 4 vote said she was appreciative of the number of people attending the meetings recently. She also emphasized that she didn’t think it was right to ask residents to go to town meeting and vote for a budget, the contents of which were still unknown.
The June 11 vote means that if two out of the three towns approve the budget at town meeting, the region has a budget, albeit one that is likely still subject to amendments based on actual numbers from the state. If the assessments to the towns remain the same or get lower, no special town meeting would be required, and the budget would be set by default after 45 days. If two out of the three communities vote down the budget at town meeting, the school will be in a one-twelfth budget situation. “This reconsideration and the rescinding of our budget was not an affront to any individual or town; we are doing what we think is in the best interest of the district and the students that we serve,” Fraser explained.
The committee stressed that they are nowhere out of the woods yet in terms of the budgets for either the region or the towns. They emphasized that difficult decisions are likely still ahead. They did, however, ask that the towns vote yes to the budget number approved by them at the June 11 meeting.
As of the time of publication, Plympton’s town meeting occurred on Wednesday, June 17. Both Kingston and Halifax have elected to postpone their town meetings to Saturday, July 11. Kingston’s decision to postpone was made after the school committee’s June 11 meeting.