Jen Gill told the committee on appropriations that her daughter was in a first grade classroom at Sowams School that had 26 students. She said the two other first grade classes as Sowams had 25 students each. Ms. Gill said she had a letter signed by 43 other people who wanted to make sure that students would not be subjected to the same size classes next year.
Members of the committee on appropriations, who are recommending a $900,000 increase for the school department, said that they are not allowed to decide on class sizes or anything else that specific with the school budget. Appropriations chairwoman Kathy Cadigan said that those decisions are left to the school committee and district administrators.
She added: “Class size is of paramount importance.”
School officials said they were well aware of the class size issue at Sowams and noted the placeholder in the budget to add a second grade teacher at that school in order to reduce the student to teacher ratio.
The schools have requested a $1.2 million increase on the current $45 million budget. Even with that increase, officials will not commit to establishing a full-day kindergarten program and have stated that they will need to make cuts in order to afford improvements in technology.
The committee on appropriations has challenged school officials with enrollment figures — appropriations members said student enrollment has dropped off and projections show more decreases in the future. They believe the lower student population necessitates fewer teachers in the district.
Jennifer Schultz, whose children attend a local elementary school, asked the committee how accurate the enrollment figures were. She said one of her children was in a kindergarten class with 20 students, while her other child was in a class with 26 students. She also asked how the committee on appropriations could recommend a $900,000 increase, but offer a $1.1 million compromise, which it had done at a meeting last week.
Ms. Cadigan explained the work behind the numbers while Joel Hellmann, another member of appropriations, said the $1.1 million offer was done in an effort to reach a consensus before heading into the May 22 financial town meeting.
Kathy Crain said her family — she has four young sons — had recently moved to Barrington from Providence primarily for the local schools. She said she has been disappointed with the lack of computers in the elementary schools. She told the appropriations members that a greater investment in the schools would actually be helping local taxpayers because it would be helping increase their property values.
“We do expect a 21st century education,” she said.
Mr. Hellmann countered that the reason why Barrington schools are so good is because of its stellar teachers and involved parents. He added that his committee needs to strike a balance between the needs of the schools and the limits of local taxpayers, some of whom are on fixed incomes.
The proposed school and municipal budgets will go before voters at the financial town meeting in two weeks, on Wednesday, May 22. The FTM will be held at the high school at 7 p.m.
Other budget notes:
• The committee on appropriations is supporting a $4 million road bond that would increase the average resident’s property taxes by $41 annually.
• The committee is also recommending the vehicle tax exemption be increased from $500 per vehicle to $1,000; the exemption will need to be funded by a slight increase in other property taxes
• The municipal budget is proposed to increase by $98,000 or .6 percent, while the capital budget will drop from $1.095 million to $926,000