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The Boston Globe

West

Natick

Schools seeking boost in staffing

No plans to request tax hike, official says

While more than 20 new jobs were put on the table as part of the Natick school district’s $53.2 million preliminary budget, raising taxes to fund the positions is not an option, according to Town Administrator Martha White.

“That is not on the table at all right now,” White said during a telephone interview last week, when she noted that residents had passed a general override of Proposition 2½ and project-specific debt-exclusion overrides in recent years.

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“The voters have been really supportive of our needs,” she said.

The 22.5 jobs — including eight classroom positions — are among the highlights of Superintendent Peter Sanchioni’s proposed budget for next fiscal year. Presented to the School Committee on Monday night, the proposal represents a 9.4 percent increase from this year’s $48.6 million budget.

White said it’s unlikely that the town will come up with the $1 million needed for all of Sanchioni’s proposed new hires. But she did say local officials would do their best to provide the funds for some of them, especially in special education, where the town is below state-mandated staffing levels.

“Certainly they have significant needs,” White said of the school system. “I haven’t reviewed each of the 22 jobs to that level of detail, but we recognize they have substantial needs. Whether we will be able afford these positions remains to be seen, but we respect that they have a lot of challenges they are trying to address.”

In addition to hiring more special education teachers, Sanchioni’s requested budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 calls for hiring new “core academic” teachers to keep class sizes manageable.

The need is especially great at Natick High School, “where we expect to add 75 students at a minimum,” Sanchioni wrote in a letter to the town’s School Committee, Finance Committee, and Administrative Council. “Budgets are about priority choices, and I believe that the choices within this proposed budget are the most prudent within fiscal constraints.”

Maintaining current staff levels and increasing funding for transportation, technology, and curriculum are also major initiatives of the spending plan.

Sanchioni proposed hiring one new special education teacher at Wilson Middle School, and two new special ed teachers at Kennedy Middle School, at a total cost of $150,000. He also calls for approximately $1.17 million for out-of-district tuition for special education students who can’t be accommodated here.

School Committee chairman Dirk Coburn cautioned against merely aiming to reach the state’s minimum levels.

“Mandates don’t happen even-handedly across the board in our system,” he said during a telephone interview on Tuesday. “If we only do what’s mandated we’ll be doing a disservice to somebody.”

In the last several years the school district has been able to add six teaching positions — thanks to significant state and federal funds — to keep pace with its growing enrollment, which has increased by 687 students in the last six years.

“Even with these additional revenues, several positions were eliminated in 2009 and 2010, including the district curriculum coordinator positions for language arts and math, a maintenance position, and a custodial position,” Sanchioni wrote. “However, no direct teaching positions were ever lost.”

Many people within the district, including Sanchioni and Coburn, hope that Governor Deval Patrick’s recently proposed budget will be amended to include more funds for school districts.

Coburn also stressed that Sanchioni’s proposal merely kicked off a two- to three-month budget process during which town revenues, state aid, and enrollment numbers for next year will crystalize. He said several public budget forums with town administrators, selectmen, the Financial Planning Committee, and the Finance Committee will be held in the weeks to come.

“We’ll certainly listen but we’ll also make our case,” he said.

And while the budget puzzle remains in pieces for now, White was clear that she won’t ask residents to fill in the blanks with a tax increase this time around.

Justin A. Rice can be reached at rice.ju@gmail.com.
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