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Weymouth

Official says educators may soon face layoffs

Mayor Sue Kay in her office.

John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Mayor Sue Kay in her office.

Weymouth Mayor Sue Kay’s proposed $139.6 million budget for fiscal 2014 probably will result in layoffs in the schools because it includes $3.5 million less in education money than the schools requested, the chairman of the Weymouth School Committee said last week.

“I can’t tell you with certainty how many people, but it will require us to pare things down,” Sean Guilfoyle said in an interview. The School Committee’s “power is very limited. We have to deal with the number the mayor gives us: It’s incredibly frustrating.

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“There is something fundamentally broken in the town of Weymouth,” Guilfoyle said.

The School Committee wanted $62.8 million next fiscal year; Kay’s budget provides just shy of $59.3 million. But she contends the schools should be able to get by since the School Committee told her that level services would cost $58.9 million.

“I’m sure they could use [more] to make the schools better,” Kay said. “But I could have done that with any department.

“It’s extremely discouraging,” she added. “We’re not going to be able to maintain this level of service much longer without added revenue – and this level of service isn’t the best.”

Her spending plan is actually $4.5 million more than last fiscal year, but most of the added money is eaten up by increased costs on nondiscretionary expenses such as employee pensions and benefits, insurance, debt payments, and state and county assessments, she said.

‘It is painfully obvious that there is not much latitude in this budget.’

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“It is painfully obvious that there is not much latitude in this budget,” Kay said. “We do not have the revenues available to meet what each of our departments thinks is necessary to deliver optimal services. However, we will deliver essential services — minimum services.”

Kay said that three departments — the libraries, police, and public works — will not be able to maintain their current level of service.

One police vacancy will remain unfilled, and trash removal fees may rise, she said. While the libraries will need to make cuts, there is money in the budget for the long-closed Fogg Library in Columbian Square to reopen, she said.

Both Kay and Guilfoyle agreed that unless their town of about 54,000 people gets more revenue, the schools and town are in trouble going forward.

Part of the problem, according to Kay, is that the SouthField development at the former South Weymouth Naval Air Station is far from complete.

The town had been counting on tax money pouring in from the more than 2,800 homes and 2 million square feet of commercial space planned for the site, she said. About 500 people live there currently.

There is little other new taxable development in town, she said.

Without a new revenue stream, the only other option is to raise taxes, she said cautiously. That would take a townwide vote to override Proposition 2½, which limits the amount of additional property tax revenue a community can raise each year to 2.5 percent plus money coming from new real estate development.

“I think the whole community is talking about it,” Kay said of the possibility. “We’ll have to look at that. It is an option to present to the residents of Weymouth.”

Weymouth last voted on a Proposition 2½ override in 1990; the proposal to raise $5.6 million more in taxes failed by a 2 to 1 ratio, according to the town clerk’s office.

In 2008, the School Committee unsuccessfully asked the Town Council to put an override on the ballot, to avoid cutting education spending.

Property owners provide about 61 percent of the town’s revenue, according to Weymouth’s chief financial officer, William McKinney. The average tax bill for a single-family home is $3,634 – the lowest in Norfolk County, he said.

The mayor presented her budget proposal last week to the Town Council, which forwarded it to its Budget Management Committee. The committee will meet with individual town departments and will hold a public hearing on May 13, McKinney said.

The full Town Council will vote on the budget in June, he said. The council can only cut the budget, he said; it cannot increase either the entire budget amount or single-line items. The final budget would take effect July 1.

Kay said she was monitoring the state budget process and would adjust her spending plan if necessary. “I will take advantage of any revenue increase that becomes available,” she said.

One feature of Kay’s budget that particularly troubled Guilfoyle was that it didn’t provide enough money for the schools and their close to 7,000 students to meet a state requirement called “net school funding” – a minimum amount of town resources that the state says must be spent on local schools.

“The mayor said she doesn’t like” the net school funding rule, Guilfoyle said. “Unfortunately, there are a lot of things people don’t like, but it’s a requirement of law.”

Kay said it wasn’t a matter of disliking the rule. “I have no faith in net school funding; I don’t trust it,” she said. “It’s outdated and incredibly confusing. In my opinion they are using flawed numbers.”

McKinney said that much of the money that Weymouth spends on its schools isn’t counted in the net school funding formula. He said that includes about $11.2 million spent last year on such things as transportation, school building debt, and retired teachers’ health insurance benefits.

Johanna Seltz can be reached at seltzjohanna@gmail.com.
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