Budget stalemate postpones decision on closing Wareham's Minot Forest Elementary

School Committee to meet before Town Meeting to revisit budget
Apr 12, 2018

A divided Wareham School Committee on Wednesday failed to reduce the district’s proposed $29.4 million budget, setting the stage for a potential clash at the April 23 Town Meeting.

Committee members and administrators have struggled for months to find ways to lower that figure. According to town officials, $28.8 million is available next year for school spending without making drastic cuts to municipal services as revenues aren’t keeping pace with expenses.

However, reducing the school district’s proposed budget has left committee members grappling with extraordinarily difficult decisions, too.

Cutting upwards of 30 full-time positions, including staff, teachers and administrators, would be needed. Over the past few months, members have also debated whether to close Minot Forest Elementary School. That would require moving 200 students to Decas Elementary School where portable classrooms would be set up.

Business Administrator Michael MacMillan said closing Minot Forest would result in 32 full-time positions being lost, a mix of staff, administrators and teachers.

Keeping the school open would force officials to cut 36 full-time jobs. Although, MacMillan noted, eight to 10 additional teaching positions would be gone under that proposal to keep support staff and administrators working at Minot Forest Elementary.

“None of these are good options,” said Rebekah Pratt, one of two newly-elected committee members. “It’s very frustrating to have to vote on bad or worse.”

Initially approved in December, the district’s proposed $29.4 million budget will likely go before voters at Town Meeting for final approval. Wednesday’s reduction vote was required for a balanced town budget. The move, had it been approved, would have also determined whether officials wanted to close Minot Forest Elementary.

The vote failed 2-2-1 as Chair Joyce Bacchiocchi and Laurie Spear said “yes” to the reduced budget. The committee’s other newly-elected member, Mike Flaherty, and Mary Morgan voted “no.” Pratt abstained. As a result, no decisions on staff cuts or closing Minot Forest Elementary have been made.

“I just want what’s best for the children in Wareham,” said Morgan. “And if we all came together we could get that…The people in Wareham would defend our budget.”

She recommended that voters interested in avoiding closing the school and staff cuts attend Town Meeting and approve the $29.4 million budget.

Financially speaking, that may be a tough sell.

“If we think the schools should get more money, I don’t know where you should take it from,” said MacMillan. “That’s the question to answer.”

If the $29.4 million budget goes before Town Meeting voters and is approved, money would have to be moved from different departments that night, a potentially chaotic scenario. Voters could face arguments from town officials opposing cuts to their respective departments, such as police, EMS, Municipal Maintenance and others.

“I’m not sure exactly where the money would come from at Town Meeting,” said Superintendent Dr. Kimberly Shaver-Hood. “It would have to come from some other department.”

Before Town Meeting, School Committee members will meet again to discuss the budget. A special meeting is set for Monday, April 23, at 5:30 p.m. in the Wareham High School library. The budget will be discussed.

Town Meeting is set for April 23 at 7 p.m. in the Wareham High School auditorium. All registered voters may participate.

Wareham Week has reached out to town officials for comment.