Southampton school officials mull ‘painful reductions’ after voters reject override

  • The William E. Norris School in Southampton GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 6/24/2021 8:27:28 PM

SOUTHAMPTON — The night after voters rejected a proposed $718,467 override, most of which would have gone toward William E. Norris School, the School Committee met to discuss its staffing plan for the next academic year.

Though the committee met at a regularly scheduled meeting, members had hoped to convene after a different outcome. But with an override off the table following Tuesday’s town election, where voters overwhelmingly rejected the override by a vote of 798-478, the committee now needs to finalize what interim Superintendent Michael Sullivan called “painful reductions” at the meeting.

The override would have increased the town’s tax rate from $0.88 to $16.85 per $1,000, adding $287 to the tax bill for the owner of an average residential property.

Following the election results, Norris School will now need to prepare for a $4.8 million budget for fiscal 2022, rather than the $5.4 million in funding it had requested. In the event that the override failed, the committee had previously created a plan to make numerous cuts and reductions, including eliminating a full-time reading interventionist position and a full-time paraprofessional position; eliminating music class; reducing the hours of two school nurses and a school psychologist by one half-day per week; reducing an assistant principal position by 25 days; and, reducing utilities by $40,000 and curriculum supplies by $10,000.

Since the School Committee came up with initial plans, four staff members at Norris have either retired or transferred to a different school district, which could alter the previous plan.

Norris Principal Aliza Pluta said at the meeting that she “can’t say that I absolutely will hire new people,” and that which positions are rehired “depends on the pool of candidates.”

With a library technology teacher position now vacated, the committee discussed the possibility of leaving this position vacant and allocating its funding towards the music teacher position. The committee did not take a vote on any proposal to change its previous plan at the meeting.

School Committee Chairman Jon Lumbra said that administrators should use the committee’s ideas as a “template,” but said that if they see another path “that doesn’t deviate out of these lanes, they should proceed accordingly.”

The Committee will further discuss its staffing plan for the next academic year at a July meeting.

The School Committee and administrators had advocated strongly for the override, with Pluta previously calling the alternative “devastating.”

In an interview, resident and former School Committee member Greg Bennett said he “was horrified with the way that the override vote turned out.”

Bennett “knew it was going to be a tough sell,” he said, “But the scope of the loss really surprised me, that there were so many people against it.

“They showed where their priorities were,” he added, “and it wasn’t the school system, unfortunately.”

Committee member Austin Rogers said at the meeting that he had been optimistic that voters would pass the override and expressed disappointment in the election’s results and turnout.

“Apparently, they just don’t care,” he said.

The override would have also provided funding for the town’s police department, fire and EMS services, highway department, library, council on aging, Select Board, administration, town clerk and other municipal services.

At the Town Election, residents also voted to reject a smaller override that would allow the town to purchase a new highway dump truck, and voted in favor of an override that will allow the town to expand a bicycle and pedestrian trail. The override supporting the multiuse trail, which will stretch from Coleman Road to Route 10, will increase taxes by about $16 for the average homeowner, and the failed highway dump trump override would have come with the same increase.

Residents have voted on several overrides over the past few years with varying results. Voters passed three overrides at a 2019 special Town Election to fund a $1.6 million bond for the East Street Bridge, a $250,000 bond for a new plow truck and a bond for repairs to Norris School. In 2017, they declined a $110,000 override request by Norris School to add staff and curriculum materials.

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.


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