Budget stalemate postpones decision on closing Wareham's Minot Forest Elementary

School Committee to meet before Town Meeting to revisit budget
By Matthew Bernat | Apr 11, 2018
Photo by: Lydia Goerner School Committee members failed to settle on a final budget figure next year, which delayed a decision on closing Minot Forest Elementary.

A divided Wareham School Committee on Wednesday failed to reduce the district’s proposed $29.4 million budget, setting the stage for a potential clash at the April 23 Town Meeting.

Committee members and administrators have struggled for months to find ways to lower that figure. According to town officials, $28.8 million is available next year for school spending without making drastic cuts to municipal services as revenues aren’t keeping pace with expenses.

However, reducing the school district’s proposed budget has left committee members grappling with extraordinarily difficult decisions, too.

Cutting upwards of 30 full-time positions, including staff, teachers and administrators, would be needed. Over the past few months, members have also debated whether to close Minot Forest Elementary School. That would require moving 200 students to Decas Elementary School where portable classrooms would be set up.

Business Administrator Michael MacMillan said closing Minot Forest would result in 32 full-time positions being lost, a mix of staff, administrators and teachers.

Keeping the school open would force officials to cut 36 full-time jobs. Although, MacMillan noted, eight to 10 additional teaching positions would be gone under that proposal to keep support staff and administrators working at Minot Forest Elementary.

“None of these are good options,” said Rebekah Pratt, one of two newly-elected committee members. “It’s very frustrating to have to vote on bad or worse.”

Initially approved in December, the district’s proposed $29.4 million budget will likely go before voters at Town Meeting for final approval. Wednesday’s reduction vote was required for a balanced town budget. The move, had it been approved, would have also determined whether officials wanted to close Minot Forest Elementary.

The vote failed 2-2-1 as Chair Joyce Bacchiocchi and Laurie Spear said “yes” to the reduced budget. The committee’s other newly-elected member, Mike Flaherty, and Mary Morgan voted “no.” Pratt abstained. As a result, no decisions on staff cuts or closing Minot Forest Elementary have been made.

“I just want what’s best for the children in Wareham,” said Morgan. “And if we all came together we could get that…The people in Wareham would defend our budget.”

She recommended that voters interested in avoiding closing the school and staff cuts attend Town Meeting and approve the $29.4 million budget.

Financially speaking, that may be a tough sell.

“If we think the schools should get more money, I don’t know where you should take it from,” said MacMillan. “That’s the question to answer.”

If the $29.4 million budget goes before Town Meeting voters and is approved, money would have to be moved from different departments that night, a potentially chaotic scenario. Voters could face arguments from town officials opposing cuts to their respective departments, such as police, EMS, Municipal Maintenance and others.

“I’m not sure exactly where the money would come from at Town Meeting,” said Superintendent Dr. Kimberly Shaver-Hood. “It would have to come from some other department.”

Before Town Meeting, School Committee members will meet again to discuss the budget. A special meeting is set for Monday, April 23, at 5:30 p.m. in the Wareham High School library. The budget will be discussed.

Town Meeting is set for April 23 at 7 p.m. in the Wareham High School auditorium. All registered voters may participate.

Wareham Week has reached out to town officials for comment.

Comments (19)
Posted by: thkng60@yahoo.com | Apr 12, 2018 05:57

Leave the other dept,s alone. You were given a budget to work with, so work with it. Everyone is biting the bullet, so should the schools.Also , if the town is worried about all the children coming in from the neww apartments, they should keep minot open. Adding  trailers or modules to the decas is going to be very expensive to do.

Posted by: Peaches0409 | Apr 12, 2018 08:24

Thnkg60....really? You can't have it both ways. You want them to work with less and keep Minot open? THEY CAN'T!!! We are already slated to lose 33 FTE's with this budget with closing of  Minot. You wan't 40 kids in a class and more layoffs? That's what will happen if Minot stays open. This town is so upside down it's ridiculous. With the amount of commercial industry in Wareham there is no way our revenue should be so low that we can't support out schools, police, COA, municipal maintenance, library and every other damn part of this town.

Posted by: Cindy | Apr 12, 2018 10:55

Hi, can someone (perhaps Ms Pratt?) explain the abstention?  Robert's Rules is pretty clear on the only reason for an abstention. According to Robert’s Rules, you should abstain from voting whenever you have an interest in the outcome that directly affects you personally (or monetarily) in a manner not shared by the other members of your group.  If she has a financial interest, she probably won't be able to vote on much, which would be like holding a seat on the committee for nothing. 

It’s your duty to vote when you have an opinion about a matter being decided. By failing to vote, you allow others to make the decision, which is the same as having voted for the prevailing side. Whether you vote or not, you’re still in some way responsible for the decision that’s made.  In this case, a stalemate.

I'm just curious as to whether she divulged a reason for the abstention.

Posted by: Peaches0409 | Apr 12, 2018 11:39

Curious myself as the that. That's why we have 5 members on the school committee no? So there won't be any "ties".

Posted by: Andrea Smith | Apr 12, 2018 17:05

If I remember correctly, if the school department manages to get voters to approve the wished for $29.4 instead of the $28.8 million allotted to the schools by town officials, then the town will be forced to reduce it's budget $600,000 in order for Town Meeting to be able to vote a balanced budget. I don't think Town Meeting can approve a budget which is "out of balance." If my thinking is correct, and the school department seeks successfully to up its budget allotment by $600,000 at Town Meeting, where can the town find $600,000 in it's municipal budget to cut, in order to reach a balanced budget? If people think the Wareham Fire District's budget was confusing, wait until the push to increase the school budget is tackled at Town Meeting.

Posted by: Spherebreaker | Apr 12, 2018 17:18

Shut it down

Posted by: thkng60@yahoo.com | Apr 13, 2018 05:53

If the town votes for the 29.4 budget , other depts will be cut further. That is not fair to any dept. to cut more than is allotted. KEEP IT OPEN

Posted by: Peaches0409 | Apr 13, 2018 08:45

Keep what open? Minot? You obviously haven't been paying attention. Minot will close with the 28.8 million dollar budget. I can't take these people commenting who have no idea what they are talking about. Have you seen or watched the school committee meetings? Have you looked at the budget? If not, please for the love of all things holy step away from the keyboard!

Posted by: Doctor Deekas | Apr 13, 2018 10:46

Chances are good that if the $600k go to the schools, the $600K coming out of other municipal budgets will hurt the students as well. I would guess the first item on the list of chopping will be the Library, that we have just been trying to crawl back with as a community. This won't satisfy the $600k, so then it's police/harbor master and town hall staff. I don't think there's anything to take from Municipal Maintenance and have that department still operate, so that's probably not a solution.

Posted by: Steve Holmes | Apr 13, 2018 13:48

Andrea you are correct  the Town must have a balanced budget. You and other commenters are correct, and we have witnessed many times that a particular issue draws a stacked Town Meeting. You know that the school employees and friends will be at Town Meeting to vote in favor of the higher budget number. I sat through these budget meetings for 6 years, and there is alot of give and take from both sides, and when the budget is presented to the BOS and the School Committee it is a budget that was reached after many hours of hard work from both sides. Nobody gets everything they want. So in this case you have new members that have spent zero hours in active negotiations voting against all the work and agreements that were made to come to an agreement. That's the way our Town is setup. I have always felt that the schedule should be changed so that there is time for newly elected officials to take an active roll before voting on something like the budget. Then to make matters worst you have a member of a board recusing themselves from voting on a budget, that is one of the main responsibilities of a member, I would suggest that if you can't vote on a budget you should resign. Did that member take part in all the meetings and discussions of the budget, I am guessing yes. The member cannot have it both ways. Town Meeting will be interesting, the stacked group will vote for the new number, and then the body will have to eliminate the money from somewhere else. So now we have 300 or more folks that don't know anything about the departments cutting their funding, not having been present at any of the budget meetings. This is not good for the Town. But it should be interesting to watch. I feel for the TA, BOS, SC and Finance Committee that put all that work into coming up with a final budget, only to have folks that were not involved tear it up without having intimate knowledge of how it was put together. Good luck to Claire and Joe, that will have to manage that meeting.

Posted by: thkng60@yahoo.com | Apr 14, 2018 06:20

PEACHES- You seem upset. I still have not read that they are closing minot. Maybe you could show me.Keep it open


Posted by: Curiouscat | Apr 14, 2018 14:40

Thank you Steve for enlightening with that info.  I am still a little concerned as to why Ms. Pratt has yet to explain herself.  I for one voted for her in the hopes to make a difference but now I'm questioning myself.  Also is there another school committee this week or am I just hearing things through the grapevine.  Nothing would surprise me at this point.

Posted by: Duffman | Apr 15, 2018 15:08

The superintendent is fixated on closing Minot. She is doing everything she can to force the voters to build a new school. Many of us can see right through her ruse. I honestly would love to see the books. I don't think the proper checks and balances have been placed on our limited funds.

Posted by: Andrea Smith | Apr 15, 2018 17:00

According to the online School Committee Calendar the next meeting is April 23, 2018 at 5:30 p.m. (one and a half hours before Annual Town Meeting is due to start)

Posted by: cranky pants | Apr 15, 2018 18:43

Can you imagine what the inside of that school would look like if they closed it for even one year ? Black mold and rodents certainly would set in, then low and behold...

We'd need to tear it down for health reasons.

Posted by: Andrea Smith | Apr 16, 2018 10:44

Cranky - You may have hit the goal right on the head so to speak. Add to the potential unoccupied-building risks  that you mentioned, the potential for repetitive major vandalism and the potential for massive fire damage, and yes, there's a good possibility of an "only option we have is to tear it down" scenario.


How about the 30 (approximate) teachers that we are being told the school department will be forced to lay off? Isn't the school department going to have to pay unemployment for every teacher laid off? So how much will the school department be paying out to cover all that unemployment? And are some of the 30 teachers being laid off as part of some sad mathematical equation contrived to cover the unemployment costs of other laid off teachers?

Posted by: Steve Holmes | Apr 16, 2018 12:39

Michael has been a great asset to the School Department. He has come up with great ideas to make the money work for the schools during difficult times. We are losing a very dedicated person, as I read he was leaving. That being said, I would recommend to the TA, SC & BOS that its time to revisit my idea, which I was unable to get passed, hiring a CFO for the entire Town, someone that would manage both the Town and School District funds. Now we have two sides developing a budget, with one side not knowing all the detailed finances of the other. If we had a CFO all numbers would go through that person, that would show see the whole Town picture. I believe that person would also be able to eliminate some of the duplication in services, being able to see both sides. Its an idea I pushed for, but the biggest opposition was, who would hire/fire the person, to whom would the person report to etc. I think those answers could be worked out fairly easily, just like any other large corporation. Having a CFO for the Town would also allow us the voters and taxpayers, to see ALL the numbers from one source, rather than seeing Town numbers and then School numbers, then trying to merge them together to come up with a final budget. Now is the time, seeing we will be having an opening when Michael leaves. We will miss having him as he has done an outstanding job under difficult conditions.

Posted by: Andrea Smith | Apr 17, 2018 15:47

Steve - If the School Department manages to get its preferred budget ($29.4 million) approved at Town Meeting, thus adding $600,000 to the amount the Town Budget ($28.8 million) allocates for the schools, the town will have to reduce its budget by $600,000. If the town is forced to make that reduction, can it choose to reduce the budget of any Town Department, or is the Town limited to reducing funding from only discretionary spending (i.e. the Library budget?)

Posted by: Steve Holmes | Apr 22, 2018 12:22

Andrea i believe that since the budget is not passed yet by vote. And the vote would be to not accept the presented budget, adding we have to vote on a balanced budget. I believe everything is on the table. Including reducing the school numbers , to get to a balanced document. Maybe if Marilyn is reading she will confirm. I dont believe by law that they can vote to accept the higher dollar budget as presented, because that would be unbalanced. Funny or not do funny i just had this conversation and still believe that these budgets need to be voted on prior to the election, so the people with all the knowledge and have done all the work do the voting. I dont recall ever going to TM and actually have the Body reject the proposed Town budget. There was some talk a few years ago about accepting an unbalanced budget but cooler heads prevailed and it did not happen. You and i both know the meeting will be stacked with school folks, and Mr. Bowen will earn every dollar of his pay. Then again this could be resolved at the 6pm School Committee meeting before TM begins, we shall see.

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