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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Uxbridge voters face $3M override for schools

Uxbridge voters face $3M override for schools

UXBRIDGE – Voters will face a $2.98 million, five-year Proposition 2½ override for school operations at May town meeting and at the ballot, Superintendent of Schools Kevin M. Carney told selectmen Monday.

Also, Mr. Carney, through Selectman James Hogan, relayed the Uxbridge School Building Study Group's preliminary recommendation that the 80-year-old McCloskey Middle School be closed at least temporarily, consolidating students across three campuses instead of the current four.

Mr. Carney told selectmen the School Department was facing a $711,000 budget gap for the coming year, compared to the town manager's recommended budget of $21.4 million. If the override passes, $623,000 in additional revenue, along with additional possible budget cuts, would bridge that gap next year.

Among the potential cuts he cited were raising class sizes and cutting athletics and activities from the general fund.

Mr. Carney outlined in a statement that if the tax override passes, it could prevent the elimination of high school athletics from the budget; the loss of two reading specialists, one math specialist, one Grade 4 teacher, two half-time assistant principals (newly proposed positions), and the reduction of two full-time school secretaries' jobs to half-time positions. It would also prevent moving the program for 18- to 22-year-old students back into the high school.

Further, access to technology would reach all classrooms in the district, with individual student access to technology devices in Grades 4 to 8. The opportunity for Spanish instruction to begin by Grade 7 is also being considered as the School Committee debates priorities.

If the override fails, the six positions mentioned, athletics and activities could be cut from the budget, unless the School Committee considers other options that include reducing other elementary and middle school teachers. Mr. Carney said those cuts would result in raising class sizes to 25 to 29 students in some grades, and cutting the math coordinator position and professional development.

"Passing this override will protect over $700,000 in staffing and program cuts," Mr. Carney told selectmen.

The proposed override would add $113.45 annually to the property tax bill for the average single-family home in Uxbridge, valued at $290,907.

The School Building Study Group recommended shuttering the McCloskey Middle School until long-range plans for the building could be developed to save more than $2.6 million over five to 10 years for repairs to meet safe, educationally-appropriate standards.

Among the needed work: asbestos removal, window replacement, roof replacement, boiler replacement, pneumatic replacement (HVAC), repairs to the auditorium, air conditioning and parking.

A feasibility study alone for the McCloskey building would cost $750,000, according to the committee's report.

Whitin Elementary School and Taft Early Learning Center also need new roofs and window and HVAC system updates, but the situation isn't as extreme as at McCloskey. Mr. Carney said $565,000 could be saved by closing the middle school building.

None of the school district's four buildings is at capacity, according to Mr. Carney.

"Anytime you kick a can down the road," Mr. Carney said, "it becomes an issue that you can't ignore anymore."

He said since fiscal 2010 the average annual school budget increase has been 1.76 percent.

Meanwhile, special education costs have increased 20 percent in the past five years, health insurance costs have gone up an average of 10 percent and salary costs have risen an average of 3.5 percent during those five years.

The School Committee's final vote on details of the proposed override will take place at its meeting March 21, after it receives guidance from the state Department of Revenue.

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