SHREWSBURY, Massachusetts – Shrewsbury Town Manager, Dan Morgado, today released his preliminary budget projections for fiscal year 2014, and it appears to paint a relatively bleak picture of the year ahead. Granted, these budget requests, and proposals are always a constantly evolving beast, and ultimately rely to a large extent on external issues such as funding available from Beacon Hill, both in unrestricted aid and circuit breaker reimbursement.
Earlier this week, as you may recall, Superintendent Joe Sawyer presented his “dream vision,” which called for the creation of dozens of new teaching and administrative positions, geared toward reducing class sizes, and providing additional mandated special education staffing and tuitions. That proposal, which contrary to what other media outlets have said was not a formal “budget request,” speculated that it would take just over $4 million in additional revenue to achieve those objectives, which as I mentioned would merely bring us back not to an ideal environment, but rather just to the abysmally low staffing levels we had a year ago before the 2013 budget removed dozens of positions. Beneath the numbers in that dream proposal was the scary issue of a level funded budget, in which the revenue would be the same as last year, even while hard costs, and the costs of mandated operational increases beyond our control were rising. At first glance, it appears to me that setting aside for a moment those visions of improving our district and reducing class size, there are well over $1,000,000 in non-negotiable cost increases. This would indicate that without a corresponding budget increase of that amount, we will be in cutting mode once again in the coming year. Having been on the inside of that process, and knowing how thin we are already stretched, I have no idea where those cuts can come from.
Getting back to the point of the article, the preliminary budget proposal issued today by the town manager called for an increase in the school budget of only $355K or 0.7%, compared to the $4 million+ (8%) increase laid out by the school department. Putting it into some perspective, that 355k isn’t even enough to cover the contractual salary increase for the teachers this year, much less the other non-negotiable items which have seen increased costs.
The proposed tax rate in Shrewsbury under this plan would rise to 11.67/k, from 11.11/k this year, and 10.67/k last year, some of which had been mitigated in the past by a reduction in assessed valuations that will not likely be the case in fiscal 2014. In addition to the increased tax rate, this proposal also depends on the use of substantial amounts of reserves from our free cash fund, over $3 Million, which is already running below the desired levels set by the Shrewsbury Board of Selectmen.
So, where do we go from here? Well, first and foremost it’s important to be informed. You can review the budget at this link http://www.shrewsbury-ma.gov/egov/docs/13591496979242.pdf
Next,you need to attend public meetings, email town officials, and speak your mind at every opportunity. At the same time, and again speaking as someone who has been on the other side, you should take note of the fact that we have a fantastic team of leaders at the helm here in Shrewsbury, and they want only the best for all of us. They are pros at this, and will do whatever they can to make it all work out in the end. We’re in this together Shrewsbury 0 through good times and bad.