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Elementary art, music, languages may face ax in Belmont

Posted by Sarah Thomas  January 20, 2011 06:14 PM

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Elementary art, music, and foreign languages could be cut — along with some high school electives — as Belmont school officials struggle to close a projected budget gap of nearly $3 million.

Belmont's municipal budget, on the other hand, contains a gap of around $300,000 gap between providing level services and available funds.

The two budgets were both presented at a meeting this week of the Warrant Committee. There will be a follow-up meeting next Wednesday, according to town administrator Tom Younger.

Budget documents prepared by school officials paint a dire picture of reduced faculty and staff and gutted art and music programs unless a $2.9 million budget gap could be filled.

"Given this gap, the funds available for next year are not sufficient to sustain the systems, structures, and programs currently in place," said a statement with the budget from district superintendent George Entwhistle. "Reductions in programs and services will be required again across the school district in virtually all areas in order to meet the budget target."

Those service reductions include eliminating the district's elementary art and music programs, foreign language classes for fifth and sixth graders, and cutting foreign language and social studies electives for high school students, as well as other changes.

Parents groups have already responded. A letter from Ellen Shreiber and Wendy Conroy, co-chairs of the Winn Brook school PTA, asked parents to send their comments on the budget to the selectmen.

"The Board of Selectman are key decision makers here," the letter read. "If you believe that we need an override to fund the schools, send them a simple e-mail saying just that."

Superintendent Entwhistle could not be reached for comment.

On the municipal side, fiscal 2012's online budget documents project an approximately $45.2 million budget to ensure level services - a 2.2 percent increase over fiscal 2011's $44.3 million budget.

A second budget works within the town's available funds and projects a 1.5 percent increase over fiscal 2011's budget, or approximately $44.9 million, said town accountant Barbara Hagg.

"There's not a lot of changes between the two budgets," Hagg said. "We've eliminated some non-road capital projects, as well as some other administrative changes."

Ralph Jones, chair of the Board of Selectmen as well as a member of the warrant committee, said that the fiscal 2012 budget would also see the end of the town's 2011 hiring freeze. However, the municipal positions eliminated in the fiscal 2011 budget, including fire fighters, would not be restored.

Sarah Thomas can be reached at sarah.m.thomas@gmail.com.

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