Tax Override On The Table To Fund STEM In Sandwich


Power Point presentation given by Dr. Canfield

The Sandwich superintendent of schools made his case Tuesday for a school budget that may require the town’s first operating budget override since 2006.

Appearing before the Sandwich Finance Committee, which will advise voters at the May Annual Town Meeting on spending decisions, superintendent C. Richard Canfield argued for a one-year “bump-up” in the budget to help Sandwich schools launch an academy for its 7th and 8th graders.

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The school committee effectively is seeking $440,750 in additional funding for the coming fiscal year for the new STEM Academy (an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, academic areas that will be emphasized at the academy.)

The increase is part of an operating school budget approved by the school committee. Under that budget, the town’s spending on its schools would rise 4.36 percent to $24.8 million.

In contrast, non-school spending in the overall town budget is proposed to increase 2.5 percent.

Dr. Canfield and the school committee see the STEM curriculum as a way to improve the education of Sandwich public school students, and to help persuade those students to remain in the system rather than leave for charter or other public schools.

Town manager George H. Dunham estimates that the request for additional funds would add $42.54 to the annual tax bill for the average residence in Sandwich. The current tax bill for that residence is just under $5,000.
 
Dr. Canfield emphasized in his presentation that the “bump-up” is part of a two-year plan that would result in operating budget savings of $1 million in the second year.
 
In the fiscal year starting July 1, the superintendent said the Sandwich school system effectively will be operating five schools in four buildings.
 
The STEM Academy will be housed in the “A” Wing of Sandwich High School. The district will continue to operate the Henry T. Wing, Oak Ridge and Forestdale schools.
 
But in the next fiscal year, the superintendent said, the district would close the Wing School, sending its students to Oak Ridge and Forestdale. He said the consolidation would slice $1 million from the district’s operating costs.
 
Speaking of an Proposition 2 1/2 override for the coming year, Dr. Canfield said, “I would guess that’s what needs to happen.”
 
But the superintendent said the schools would have no special claim on those operating funds in future fiscal years.
 
Mr. Dunham also noted that while an override permanently increases the town’s annual property tax levy limit, the town is not required to tax up to that limit.
 
If the additional funds are not forthcoming for STEM, Dr. Canfield said, the school would cut teachers and aides in kindergarten through 6th grade to ensure the money is available to launch the academy.
 
The superintendent said the cuts would shake the confidence of parents just as the school district is working on another systemic change: the consolidation of three elementary schools into two.
 
In response to a question from finance committee member Gene J. Parini, the superintendent said the town could not count on the prospective $1 million in savings without the initial budget increase in the coming fiscal year.
 
Dr. Canfield did not provide a specific financial rationale to Mr. Parini, but rather emphasized that the failure to provide the requested STEM funding would “blow the trust” of Sandwich parents in its school system.
 
Only the board of selectmen can decide whether to place an override before the town’s voters.
 
Near the end of the meeting, school committee chairman Andrea M. Killion suggested structuring the “bump-up” as a one-year tax levy exclusion, rather than as a permanent operating override.
 
But Mr. Dunham, who has researched the matter, previously said that exclusions cannot be applied to operating funds.
 
At Tuesday’s meeting, however, Mr. Dunham held open the possibility that Sandwich officials may be able to make adjustments in the town budget to avoid tying an operating override to the STEM launch.
 
Dr. Canfield’s presentation drew a mixed response from several finance committee members.
 
Committee members Matthew M. Terry and Anne B. Dessertine said they saw the value in the additional STEM investment.
 
Mr. Terry said STEM, by keeping students in the district, could cut down on the $3 million that the town now spends to cover the cost of Sandwich students who choose to attend charter and other public schools.
 
But another committee member, Ellen Yaffe, said cuts could be made to reduce next year’s school budget.
 
“I am very concerned,” Ms. Yaffe said. “I don’t support the 4.36 percent.”

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