The City Council last night voted to accept a $136.3 million budget for the next fiscal year beginning July 1 amid concerns regarding school department cuts.
Council members raised three concerns with the school budget: cuts in occupational therapists, higher lunch and bus fees and class size.
At the forefront of the discussions were questions related to cutting four full-time occupational therapist positions and replacing them with four full-time certified occupational therapist aides, which reflects a $92,000 cost savings.
However, Superintendent of Schools C. Milton Burnett told council members that the special education director was researching the validity of such cuts and will present her findings to the School Committee sometime in July.
“This is a big issue,” said Councilor David Gravel, who like most members said he received many calls from parents expressing concern over cutting the occupational therapists. “I’d rather see us hold on to these positions and teachers as opposed to people who sit behind paper.”
The city now employs six occupational therapists, but the new budget would cut four of those positions and replace them with four aides. The school department is reviewing the individual education plan for each student who has one to determine if that plan includes occupational therapy services and if it’s feasible that an aide administer those services, said School Committee member Beverley Ann Griffin Dunn.
Four School Committee members, many parents and Bruce
Nelson, president of the
“I was disappointed that we were not able to answer to some of the questions the council members raised,” said Dunn.
This was the first time the school committee and others were not able to address the council prior to a budget vote, said Dunn.
Should it be found that the city is not able to cut the four occupational therapist positions, the School Committee will have to reinstate some or all of them, said Dunn. This means that other positions or programs will have to be cut.
“We have to stay with the budget bottom line,” said Dunn. “We’ll have to take from another area of our education. This is always a balancing act.”
The new school budget of $61,982,258 reflects a $1.9 million
increase over last year’s budget, said Burnett.
The increases will fund contracted pay raises, performance raises, special education tuition increases, health insurance increases, Medicare insurance and supply and textbook restoration fees.