After a marathon two-hour discussion and debate Tuesday night over next year’s proposed school department budget, members of the Bourne Finance Committee and the Bourne Board of Selectmen agreed that the Bourne public school system is severely underfunded.
“Without a doubt in my mind, this budget does not represent moving quality education ahead in Bourne,” finance committee member Glenn R. Galusha said.
Discussion followed a presentation by school superintendent Steven M. Lamarche. In his presentation, the superintendent unveiled a $20.8 million school budget for the coming year. That figure is $557,636 more than the town administrator had requested.
In his presentation, the superintendent noted that town administrator Thomas M. Guerino’s requested budget for next year was 2.43 percent less than this year’s budget. Neighboring school districts, such as Falmouth, Sandwich, Mashpee, Barnstable and Wareham all show increased percentages in their budgets, with Wareham coming in highest at 3 percent. Over a five-year period, Wareham showed a cumulative percentage increase in its school budget of 9.43, while Bourne shows a 3.8 percent drop during the same period of time.
“If I were a parent in this community, I’d be up in arms,” Mr. Galusha said.
He mentioned that there are 290 houses currently for sale in Bourne and suggested the decrease in school funding could lead to families deciding to leave because it appears that the town does not consider education to be a priority.
“We need to rethink and make sure that education is not one of the reasons people are leaving this community,” he said.
Fellow fincom member Judith W. Conron agreed.
“I do believe that it is important for our future as a town that we have a good school system. This could reverberate into empty houses,” Ms. Conron said.
Selectman Linda M. Zuern disagreed with the idea that people will leave town if education is not properly funded. Ms. Zuern pointed out that students who are home-schooled do not have thousands of dollars spent on them, yet they can receive a good education. She said that what is important is the quality of teachers and not the amount of money spent. She also argued that the budget should not be viewed strictly as a school focus, but as a town focus.
“We are talking about balancing our budget for the town, and it’s not about looking at one side of that, just the educational side of it,” she said.
Finance committee chairman Michele W. Ford said there needs to be a wider discussion of the town’s budget as a whole. She suggested that rather than reducing personnel both on the town and school side, the goal should be to minimize the impact of lost services, “which the budget that the town administrator proposed does a pretty good job of.”
Ms. Ford said that the budget is a reflection of the town’s values and priorities in terms of the services that can be provided residents.
“We need to understand what it is we want to support in this town in a more holistic conversation than what are we doing about the school budget,” she said.”
At one point Tuesday night, tempers flared when selectman Donald J. Pickard chastised Mr. Guerino. Mr. Pickard felt that Mr. Guerino had been disrespectful when addressing finance committee member Mary Jane Mastrangelo.
“It’s very unbecoming of the town administrator to raise his voice to a level that is insulting to elected and appointed members,” Mr. Pickard said.
“It is certainly not intended,” Mr. Guerino said.
Mr. Pickard’s outrage stemmed from a disagreement between Mr. Guerino and Ms. Mastrangelo over repayment of $950,000 to the town’s stabilization fund. That money was used to help finance the new Department of Public Works facility.
Mr. Guerino explained that if town officials chose to spend that money rather than move it from free cash, the town would fall below its own written policy of keeping 12 percent of its finances in both the stabilization and free cash accounts.
Ms. Mastrangelo suggested that the town should have taken $342,000 from its capital stabilization account to help fund the DPW facility.
Mr. Guerino reminded Ms. Mastrangelo that she had been involved with the capital outlay and budget meetings when it was decided how construction of the new facility would be funded.
Mr. Pickard moved on to personnel reductions and asked if it was true that the positions to be cut on the town side were vacant and not actually filled by employees. Mr. Guerino immediately responded that was not true, his quick response angering the selectman.
“First you were very rude to Mrs. Walton three weeks ago. You’re getting loud with Mrs. Mastrangelo. You’re coming at me. Would you tone it down a bit?” Mr. Pickard said. The reference to Mrs. Walton was an incident that occurred at the selectmen’s meeting on January 28. Mr. Pickard felt that Mr. Guerino had shut off the school committee member when she attempted to ask some questions during public comment.
Soon after, Mr. Pickard departed Tuesday’s meeting and did not return. In an e-mail response, he explained that he had to leave to pick up some friends arriving at the Amtrak station in Providence at 9:45 PM Tuesday night. At a later point Tuesday night, Mr. Guerino issued a formal public apology to Ms. Walton.
“Mr. Pickard was right to call me out. If at any time I was discourteous to you, I apologize,” he said.