Town Meeting could be a contentious affair this year as cuts have left the school budget in disarray, final revenue and expense numbers are still coming in, and an anti-tax cadre of citizens may be planning a floor fight to take aim at line items they feel are wasteful or misguided.
With just a few days left before the start of Town Meeting on Monday, the School Committee was still making final adjustments to its $70 million budget on the heels of $1.2 million in cuts forced on them by the town manager and Board of Selectmen.
The committee voted Tuesday night in favor of the reduced budget, which includes a proposal to lay off approximately 50 full- and part-time instructional assistants, or IAs, who help out with everything from monitoring recess to teaching autistic children.
School Committee member Barbara L’Italien said last week she couldn’t predict what the impact of the cut would be.
“It remains to be seen,” she said. “These IAs, as we heard, are taking care of some of our most vulnerable students. I do have concerns about what the impacts are going to be. I do think there’s going to be pain involved.”
However, she said, she doesn’t expect a fight on town meeting floor to restore school funding, if it comes to that.
“It’s possible, but highly unlikely,” she said. “It would take an organized group of people to do that. In North Andover, there were floor fights over the school budget in the past, but it’s a very divisive process. It’s anyone’s right to do it, but it’s divisive.”
During a selectmen’s meeting Monday night, the School Committee nearly got a reprieve when Selectman Dan Kowalski held out an olive branch in the midst of an argumentative budget process. He made a lengthy speech about how selectmen may have over-reached in their effort to cut the budget, causing severe, unexpected pain in the School Department.