WINCHESTER — There was a hearing on the budget, and plenty of comment on the budget, but still no budget proposal for the Winchester School District.
The town’s budget committee went ahead with its public hearing despite not having its proposed budget for the district ready to present. That’s because the school board was late in getting its recommendation to the committee, said Chairman Brian D. Moser.
More than 50 people came out Tuesday, the largest crowd for a budget hearing Moser said he has seen.
Though some were in support of the school, most who spoke at the hearing railed against what they called a cripplingly high tax rate.
“There’s something structurally wrong with the school system in this town …” resident Joseph Kozma said. “I either have to foreclose or move out.”
He suggested there are too many teachers at Winchester School for the 480 students there. (The district’s website lists 32 teachers and 43 paraprofessionals at the school.)
“There’s an army of people in the parking lot every day. Those are the people bleeding us out,” he said.
“They’re bankrupting us,” Malcolm J. Perkins said, citing what he called a costly administration.
Resident Robert J. Salg, who is retired and on a fixed income, said his taxes went up by $469 this year. “I cannot take another increase like that.”
Winchester had the fourth-highest tax rate and third-highest school tax in the state last year. The 2011 tax rate was up 15.8 percent from 2010’s, while the school portion went up 24.4 percent, mostly because of higher-than-anticipated special education costs.
Ted Ryll, a member of the budget committee, presented a petition with about 30 signatures calling on the committee to separate “absolute needs” from “mere desires” in the school board’s budget.
But the committee had few recommendations on where to trim.
Budget committee member Richard Horton suggested reducing the custodial staff and cutting the technology director from full-time to part-time. He also asked about dipping into a capital improvement fund for some larger maintenance projects planned for the next year.
And while he didn’t try to cut them, Horton did call the salaries of the superintendent, principal and assistant principal “hard to swallow.”
But committee member Robert E. Davis suggested more drastic cuts, targeting special education, administrative costs and teachers. He said after the hearing he thought the school board’s recommendation was unacceptable, a sentiment he heard from speakers that night.
“It has to stop,” he said.
The district’s superintendent, Kenneth R. Dassau, said afterward he would have liked the school board to have had a chance to explain its recommendation to help people understand the numbers.
“Someone’s always losing their job or house … What I really heard is that I think the board and the budget committee have to have a responsible meeting where they can agree on some changes,” he said.
“Where is that balance between a responsible budget and the community’s ability to carry that payment?”
The budget committee will have its proposed budget finished by the end of the month, Moser said. The school district’s deliberative session is scheduled for Feb. 9.
Abby Spegman can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1409, or email@example.com.