Pembroke sounds off on proposed school cuts after budget shortfall

  • Pembroke budget committee chairman Mark LePage moderates a budget committee meeting at Pembroke Academy on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018. Lola Duffort/Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Friday, February 09, 2018

A packed house attended Pembroke’s budget hearing Thursday night to sound off on proposed cuts to next year’s school budget – most against, but many in favor.

Since a $1 million shortfall unexpectedly spiked taxes this year, school officials have been hacking away at next year’s budget in hopes of making taxpayers whole.

The school board has recommended a budget of $25.32 million, a reduction of $1.38 million from this year’s budget. It includes cutting six teachers and 10 noncertified employees.

But the subject on most people’s minds Thursday was an additional $770,000 in cuts recommended by the budget committee. The school board has come out strongly against the extra cuts, and put out a list, compiled by administrators, of programs and employees that could get the ax in the event of additional reductions.

Potential faculty cuts include a business and technology, life sciences and social sciences teacher. Two librarians, two custodians, a reading specialist and a speech pathologist could also go.

Glenn Vodra, a freshman at Pembroke Academy, ran through the list of co-curricular items, like robotics and sports, in jeopardy if the budget committee’s recommended cuts come to fruition in March.

“You look at this and you see that students are going to get affected by this and it’s not our fault for the tax problems,” he said.

(Officials have offered bottom-line amounts to take out of co-curricular budgets but haven’t said which programs, exactly, would be eliminated.)

But April Villani, a parent in town, said the cuts recommended by the school board weren’t nearly enough to make the town whole after the year’s tax hike. And she said school officials had plenty of discretion in how to spend their money.

“It is the Pembroke school board’s decision how to spend the multimillion dollars that we give them. Look at that. How much have we given them? Every year since 2012, $24 to $26 million. Paid by the Pembroke taxpayers,” Villani said. “It’s about managing the funds available while providing a quality education.”

Kerri Dean, a parent in the district, told the crowd that she’d had to fight to stay in Pembroke over the summer and had been livid about the tax increase. Like several who spoke Thursday, Dean said believed a contingent in town was using legitimate anger at the school district over the tax spike to serve a long-standing agenda to “gut” the district as much as possible.

“I took comfort knowing there were people trying to find answers and solutions. I admit, I fell under the spell, thinking people were out to help the town. But the deeper into this tax crisis we got, I realized these individuals only wanted to gut our schools and have wanted to do that for a very long time,” she said.

Dan Morris, Pembroke Academy’s director of curriculum, told the crowd he’d grown up in Pembroke, and had, as a student in its schools, seen firsthand the impact when music was cut in a budget crunch.

“It took us 20 years to get that program back to where it was. And I can’t help but think that decisions we make on March 10 will likely have a generational impact on our students,” Morris said.

In a hurried meeting after the hearing, the budget committee ultimately reaffirmed their earlier stance, voting down a motion by vicechairman Gerry Fleury to add back $770,000 into their recommendation for the March warrant.

The district’s annual meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. March 10 at Pembroke Academy.