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Schools may cut library staff, privatize lunches

Posted by Sarah Thomas  January 20, 2011 10:28 AM

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Wellesley school officials presented a series of budget reductions this week that would raise athletic fees, eliminate staff in libraries, and potentially privatize the district's school lunches in an effort to close a potential $1.2 million budget gap.

Superintendent Bella Wong calculated two different sets of programming cuts, depending on how the school committee decides to spend some of the district's federal money.

"As an employee for the school district, I can't advocate for the use of tax funds," Wong said in an interview. "But there are challenges."

The district already took a pass at the budget gap earlier this month, cutting a dedicated school bus for St. Johns students, reducing the time of the elementary art classes, cutting a semester of required phys ed class for high school students, and eliminating library books. Savings from these cuts totaled $188,445.

Additional cuts presented at the Wednesday meeting include:

- Reducing the length of elementary library classes and eliminating the library director position, as well as one librarian at the high school

- Raising middle and high school athletic and activity fees (from $125 to $150 for middle school athletics and activities, from $100 to $150 for high school activities, and from $230 to $250 for high school athletics)

- Freezing the daily rate for substitute teachers

If the school committee decides not to use federal money for the operating budget, additional cuts would be needed. They include:

- Eliminating an elementary section

- Reducing elementary music classes to 1 per week and decreasing the length of music and fitness classes to 30 minutes

- Increasing high school athletic fees to $270

- Eliminating a humanities faculty position as well as 5 academic labs each from the English and Social Studies departments

- Privatizing school lunches

Many of these changes come with reductions in faculty and staff - the district has already eliminated two elementary sections and faculty positions in the art and fitness departments - and Wong said those are the changes that have the most impact on a student's experience.

"The ones that have the greatest effect are the ones that eliminate personnel," Wong said. "They change the way students feel about school. We tried to maintain the depth and breadth of our program offerings, because they are an important way to engage kids."

KC Kato, chair of the Wellesley school committee, said the meeting was lengthy and included passionate responses from members of the community.

"The central thesis we heard was that residents recognize the huge value in preserving the full range of our programs as well as our small class sizes," Kato said. "People were very emphatic about that."

Kato said that the school committee is still soliciting citizen responses, and that residents who wish to communicate their views may do so by emailing the committee.

"Very likely, there may be some changes as we take in feedback," Kato said. She also noted that some of the district's sources of funding, like the state curcuit breaker and local aid, were still undetermined.

The next step for the budget is a school committee vote on Monday at 9 a.m. at Town Hall. Kato said there would be a citizen speak before the vote was cast.

"After the vote, we will present the budget to the advisory committee," Kato said. "If they approve it, it will be voted on at town meeting in March."

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

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