Barrington taxpayers vote down $633,000 increase; full-day K in doubt
An amendment to add $633,000 into the Barrington School Department budget and all but ensure the implementation of full-day kindergarten this fall came up 37 votes short on Wednesday night.
A paper ballot vote at about 10 p.m. yielded two sets of numbers — one from each of the electronic counters located in the front of the Barrington High School auditorium. Town moderator Julia Califano read the first set of numbers, which showed a slight edge for people supporting the amendment, 97 to 91. Then she read the second set, which held a lopsided favor for those opposing the six-figure increase, 91 to 51.
With a 185-148 victory in hand, those against the amendment cheered, while a large group of disappointed residents headed for the exits.
Later that night, Joel Hellmann, a member of the committee on appropriations, said he considered the final outcome a victory. His group, which reviews municipal and school department budgets each year and prepares a recommendation for voters, still called for a $900,000 increase to the $45 million school budget.
Members of appropriations said they believed the existing school budget held enough money to implement full-day kindergarten this fall, and at least one school official — first-year school committee member Paula Dominguez — agreed.
Ms. Dominguez told the people gathered at the financial town meeting that she has long supported full-day kindergarten and was willing to "sharpen her pencil" and "strap on her big girl panties" in order to get the job done.
Superintendent Michael Messore offered a different scenario. He said that implementing full-day kindergarten without the additional $633,000 would likely force officials to cut back on programs and staffing.
Dozens of people took turns pleading their case prior to the vote.
Those supporting the amendment, which had been filed by Waseca Avenue resident Amy Morton, said the implementation of full-day kindergarten was overdue in Barrington. They said the youngest residents of town deserved every opportunity to succeed in their academic studies, not to start off their school careers behind the curve.
"This is about the health and wellbeing of our children," said Thomas Crain.
"It's not a home improvement project," said April Tibbets, "it's our children. Please, let's just find the money."
"We can't wait until next year," said Tricia Adams. "The kids need it now. Please vote to support it."
A few folks also voiced opposition to the measure, and even more asked questions about the financial figures surrounding the budget. Many residents questioned why the school department numbers and those offered by the committee on appropriations were not the same. They also asked why an early cost estimate of $141,000 for the full-day K program had ballooned to $633,000 just a few weeks before the financial town meeting.
"We have the financial town meeting once a year…" said John Cregan. "You've got to be prepared for this. It's not fair to us. It's not fair to our kids."
Toward the end of the discussion, Barrington Town Council member Bill DeWitt told the audience members that the school committee's budget should reflect its priorities, and if all school officials and residents are in agreement that full-day kindergarten is needed, than it should be accommodated for. He said he believed there are $633,000 in the current budget wrapped into programs that are not as important as full-day kindergarten, and that the school committee needed to make the difficult decision about what to cut and what to preserve.
"They need to fund the ones that work and stop funding the ones that don't," he said.
Martin Avenue resident Peter Williams told school officials that he thought they did a great job educating the young people of Barrington, but "a terrible job budgeting."
After the vote, Barrington School Committee Chairman Bob Shea said he respected the financial town meeting process, but was disappointed in the outcome and frustrated with the "number of inaccuracies" reported by the committee on appropriations during the meeting.
When asked if he thought the school committee could still find a way to bring full-day kindergarten to the district this fall, he said: "Personally, I don't think we can do it," adding that he was still willing to begin a conversation about the program and take a closer look at it.
The $4 million road improvement bond passed by a wide margin, but a motion to reserve $400,000 of town funds for tax abatements, possibly including some for the Palmer Pointe affordable housing development, failed.
In the end, the tax rate increased from $18 per $1,000 of assessed value to $18.20. The overall combined — school and municipal — budget rose to $59,363,416.