GARDNER – School officials are seeking a Proposition 2½ override to help fill a $926,000 shortfall in the next fiscal school budget and help stave off cuts to 21 positions, including 11 teachers.
Superintendent Mark J. Pellegrino said the cuts will have a significant impact on the arts program in the district.
“Specifically, there will be fewer electives at the high school and middle school, and the elementary schools will only have arts every other week instead of the current schedule, which is every week,” Mr. Pellegrino said recently.
Gardner is one of only a handful of communities in the state that has never passed an override or debt exclusion request, according to town officials.
At its April 17 meeting, City Council will consider approving a $700,000 override request for the school district. The measure must also be approved at a special town meeting and special election.
If the override does not pass, the superintendent said 21 positions will have to be cut: 11 teachers, a district coach, eight paraprofessionals and a secretary.
He said the district is also suspending the hockey program to save $34,000 until there is “renewed interest.”
“We are looking for co-op options to allow students to play,” he said.
In the last fiscal cycle, the School Committee made $164,000 in cuts to their requested budget, he added.
“We, like many cities, rely heavily on Chapter 70 (state aid) funds,” the superintendent said. “Unfortunately, we only received a $50,000 increase, while our taxpayers had a $306,000 increase. It is difficult to maintain the services we have with only a 1.5 percent increase in the budget. Our expenses just to maintain current services are well above that number.”
If the $700,000 override passes, property taxes will increase $100 a year on the average single family home in Gardner assessed at about $165,000, town officials said. An override is a permanent tax increase.