On third try, voters pass school budget in Hopkinton

  • The two lanes in the Hopkinton High School parking lot for the voting on Saturday morning, May 30, 2020 with fewer cars during the second school voting in the last two weeks. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Denis Goddard raises his protest sign ‘ 1 Choice No Choice’ in front of Hopkinton High School on Saturday morning, May 30, 2020 during the second drive-through school meeting vote. GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor Staff
Published: 8/17/2020 3:49:33 PM

A town divided for months over the issue of the school budget, has finally reached a decision. Hopkinton voters approved a school budget for the town on Saturday, in the third voting session since the original budget was proposed. This approval will have the district operating on nearly $21 million for the 2020-2021 school year.

The voting took place using a drive-through system at Hopkinton Middle High School and 1,515 residents participated. The budget passed with 922 votes in favor and 593 votes in opposition.

“We are pleased and happy that the district finally has a budget after the third drive-by meeting,” Hopkinton school board chair Jim O'Brien said Monday. “We are thankful to the  community for coming out to vote and voting in support.” 

 The budget is a 1.8% increase over last year.

Previous proposals for the school budget were rejected by residents in two voting sessions back in May. The passage of this budget on Saturday prevented the district from having to revert to a “flat budget,” using the same funds as last year, which would have resulted in cuts to programs and positions.

Still, the new budget is not without some losses. There will be no raises for salaried staff. A support position is being cut from Hopkinton Middle High School and a special education position is being cut from Maple Street School. There will also be reductions in technology and supplies. 

The position of library media assistant was added back into the budget, after board members decided the position was important in order to make library services available to students.

Board member Norm Goupil said communicating details about the school budget to the public was more difficult this year because citizens could not gather for the typical annual school district meeting due to concern over COVID-19. Instead, board members have been posting information online and meeting with residents in smaller, socially distant settings around town like the Transfer Station to talk about the issues.

“COVID-19 took that experience away from what is a normal town tradition,” Goupil said. “But we also were able to deliver the message to a lot of people in a unique way that is different from the past.”

Moving forward, Goupil said the school board’s finance committee is working to develop a new budget format that will be presented to the public in a more transparent way.

“They’ve asked for it, and I think it’s important that we deliver some new format that’s able to communicate the school budget in a better way that all of us can understand and answer questions easily,” Goupil said.

The board will also continue talks with the teacher’s union regarding contracts for this year, according to O'Brien. Hopkinton voters rejected proposed contracts for the education association back in May, and teachers are currently operating on last year’s contracts. If there is an agreement and a new contract is formed, it may be up for another vote at a special school meeting in the future.

With the budget set at $20,923,855 for the upcoming year, the school board will continue to focus on back-to-school plans. Hopkinton is operating fully in-person for pre-K, and using a hybrid model for kids in kindergarten through third grade. Fourth graders and above will be doing remote learning.

“Having a budget that’s settled really helps us in that planning,” O'Brien said.

The issue of the school budget has been a divisive one for the town of Hopkinton, with many residents saying that the school budget demands too much contribution from taxpayers. In a note attached to the school meeting results, school moderator James Newsom urged Hopkinton residents to continue listening to one another moving forward.

“Let’s come together and hear our differences, and consider the validity of our neighbors’ opinions,” Newsom wrote. “I also ask that signs advocating positions related to the meeting be removed as soon as possible as part of our healing process.”

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