In Franklin, residents urge city to close $1.3 million school budget gap

  • People gather outside the Franklin City Hall just before a meeting Monday night. Over 100 students, teachers, parents and officials attended the city council meeting to ask that a projected $1.3 million gap in the school budget be funded.

Monitor staff
Tuesday, June 07, 2016

More than 100 students, teachers, parents, residents and elected officials filled the Franklin Opera House on Monday night and told city councilors they love their community and schools, and they don’t want to see both fail in the face of a $1.3 million school budget gap.

Dozens shared their opinions for two hours during the public comment portion of the Franklin city council’s meeting. Before anyone spoke, however, Mayor Ken Merrifield assured the audience that he understood the importance of the issue.

“I’ve been involved with the school board and the city council for about 25 years now,” Merrifield said. “I think this year’s budget cycle is the most difficult I’ve experienced.”

Due to reduced state adequacy aid, loss of tuitioned students as well as increased insurance, collective bargaining, retirement funds and other costs, the Franklin school board is looking at potentially cutting more than 20 teaching and support staff positions. Pink slips were sent out last month.

At its May 9 meeting, the school board approved a draft $15.76 million budget for the 2016-17 school year even though revenue is projected to be $14.45 million. The board said in previous meetings that it hoped the city council could consider helping close the gap.

Property tax revenue is allocated 65 percent toward the city budget and 35 percent toward the school budget.

On Monday, Merrifield said the meeting was not a public hearing and therefore budget decisions could not be made there. He did say that from his perspective, a number of factors going into the budgeting process are out of his control, though there was one thing he could do.

“I have asked the city manager to zero out my salary as mayor next year and to give those funds to the school district,” Merrifield said to loud applause. He added, “I assure you that is not enough money to solve our problem.”

Lack of money was the universally acknowledged problem throughout the meeting, and speakers highlighted the number of ways an underfunded school budget could hurt the Franklin community.

A Franklin High School freshman, Gavin, was one of several students who told the city council that he was worried the possible lack of electives and advanced courses could jeopardize students’ ability to get into college.

“I’m personally looking at energy resources and engineering – many classes that would help in that area are not available including calculus, which is proposed to be cut from the schedule,” Gavin said.

Other students praised the personal connections and support they have received from some of the teachers potentially losing their jobs within the district. Parents emphasized this too – Lilly Machos said her family moved from Milford a year and a half ago and even though Milford had higher funding for its schools, her oldest child has noticeably thrived since attending Paul Smith Elementary School.

“However, that is only because of the emotional and pure-hearted investment of his teachers,” Machos said. Her voice trembling with emotion, she added, “I want our middle child and our youngest child to have those early years be as productive.”

More parents stood up and told city councilors that if the school budget is underfunded, they would have no choice but to move away or consider alternative education.

The whole room was in agreement Monday night that everyone wanted to support the city’s children. And there were numerous suggestions for how that may be accomplished: reallocate funds from the city budget to the school district budget, join the Winnisquam Regional School District, eliminate the tax cap.

One parent said, “Please, raise my property taxes.”

City and school officials assured the room that they were working together to fund the gap. A joint discussion was held last week, and the school board will present its budget officially to the city council next Tuesday at 6 p.m.

During Monday’s meeting, school board member Susan Hallett-Cook said she was organizing a committee to help the school board and city council focus on a joint, long-term effort.

“We need to have accountability – we need to have a vision we can all work toward,” she said. The first thing she’s doing, Hallett-Cook added, was gathering data on the good already happening in Franklin.

“Let’s start focusing on our positives and moving our positives forward,” Hallett-Cook said.