Mattapoisett votes to approve controversial school budget
MATTAPOISETT – Mattapoisett residents showed up in droves for town meeting on Monday, May 9, at Old Rochester Regional High School with a line that wrapped all the way around the school.
The meeting, while scheduled for 6:30 p.m., was called to order just before 7:30 p.m. due to the time that it took to check more than 400 voters in.
The turnout was to support the contested school committee budget, which the Finance Committee vote to not recommend. The town’s total operating budget of $30,766,933 required a two-thirds majority to pass, which it achieved with 425 votes in favor and 20 against.
Chair of the Finance Committee Pat Donoghue opened with a presentation about her stance on the budget, followed by Town Administrator Mike Lorenco, who reviewed the overall budget and how funds are allocated.
“Needed infrastructure improvements that are long overdue are on the back burner,” said Donoghue, who mentioned that the state of the town hall is “not a safe environment.” She referenced shaky floors, portable air conditioning, and bad air quality.
“Yes, our schools are beautiful, but I’m troubled by the discrepancy between the different areas.”
Lorenco noted that the local school budget is up 2.03% this year. But through the years, he said, the budget has increased 25.4 percent, a rate that has “outpaced inflation.’’
Education makes up 49.3 percent of the town’s budget.
He added that his recommendation tonight was to vote in favor of the budget, but the town would need to “look at these figures again and see what they could change.”
Carly Lavin, Vice Chairman of the Mattapoisett School Committee, then took the podium to speak.
“I am a parent first, I have four children from preschool to fourth grade,” she said. “This budget maintains level service for high quality education for our children delivered by the greatest staff in the area in two buildings.”
James Muse, chair of the Mattapoisett School Committee, disputed Donaghue’s claims in an emotionally charged delivery.
“I cannot tell you how extremely hurt I am,” he said, citing that he has been working with Mattapoisett schools for the past 30 years. “This town has now been divided, I can’t stand it.”
Resident Kierney Klein took center stage with a proposal that earned some interest among the audience – that the town approve the budget, provided they see a detailed three-year plan from the school board by the next town meeting.
“We are missing the big picture, and we are on a path that’s unsustainable,” said Klein.
While Town Moderator Jack Ecklund noted that this was something both the Finance Committee and School Committee would be on board with, they could not legally make it an official motion while approving the budget during town meeting.
During his presentation, Lorenco mentioned school consolidation for future consideration “if it makes financial sense.” This has been brought up in past Select Board meetings, where Lorenco mentioned that Mattapoisett is one of the only communities in the region that separates grades K-3 and 3-6 into two buildings.
Sara Jacobsen, a 6th grade teacher at Old Hammondtown School, raised her hand and brought up that issue. “It seems like the decision to have two campuses is resulting in the high cost,” she said.
Donoghue said the decision to have two buildings was made in 2000, when they predicted that the school population would grow to 850 rather than shrink to this year’s number of 436 students.
Jacobsen asked who has the authority to make the decision on school consolidation, to which Lorenco’s reply was that it was something that would have to be addressed at a “future town meeting” by voters.
Finally, before the vote, Superintendent Mike Nelson addressed the crowd.
“My only real concern is that it feels like there’s school versus all other departments, and that couldn’t be further from the truth,” he said. “I view our schools as just one of those departments, not one that’s holding others back. There is no disagreement on collaborating with everyone on this stage.”