Springfield school budget failure prompts sabbatical withdrawal
By Christian Avard
Staff Writer | March 07,2013
SPRINGFIELD — There was plenty of reaction Wednesday after the Springfield School District’s $28.2 million budget failed on Tuesday.
The School Board received a surprising announcement at Wednesday’s meeting when a Springfield High School teacher withdrew her sabbatical request due to the budget’s defeat.
English teacher Jennifer Dodge wrote that she could not go on leave at the expense of the students’ futures and asked the board to cut her sabbatical, worth $43,691, from the budget.
According to her statement, read by Springfield High School Principal Bob Thibault, Dodge said it was “disturbing” and “disheartening” to hear students tell her that Springfield voters “do not care about them.” She told them that it wasn’t true, but they still disagreed with her.
“They reply, ‘Of course it is (true). If they did care, they wouldn’t turn down the budget every year.’ I’ve yet to find a good answer to that statement,” Dodge wrote.
The School Board accepted her withdrawal with regret. But according to two budget committee members, the budget’s defeat had less to do with Dodge’s sabbatical and more to do with other concerns.
Budget Committee member Hugh Putnam said he was concerned because the School Board approved $290,092 in recommended cuts but then reinstated another $87,000 for staff negotiations.
Putnam said the School Board’s decision did not fare well with some voters.
“You added in considerable dollars after we left the table. I’m concerned our input isn’t really that important,” Putnam said. “It’s your right to do that, but we were very clear we didn’t want any money for that.”
School Board Chairman Scott Adnams said that the board thought it was important include money for staff negotiations so that they could prevent unexpected surprises that may occur.
“We could have started with a deficit, depending on what happens (with negotiations). It’s a tough situation,” he said.
But Putnam and budget committee member Ed Caron said voters were “blind-sighted” when there was a last minute article asking the town to approve another $231,012 to purchase a Union Street property, after the School Board approved the $28.2 million budget, Voters defeated the article, 991-700.
“There is a lot of discontent out there about the way this whole school district has been run for the last 10 years and they showed it at the polls on Tuesday,” Putnam said. “We never discussed the (Union Street) house. It was the timing and approach that defeated it. It’s not just about dollars and cents.”
Superintendent Zach McLaughlin acknowledged Putnam’s observation and said they will do what it takes to rebuild the community’s trust. He agreed that they introduced the special article at the eleventh hour but said they cannot purchase private property without the public’s consent.
Caron told the board that better timing and careful explanations are what’s needed in order to pass the budget and special articles.
There will be three upcoming School Board meetings to discuss a new budget at 6 p.m. March 12, March 19 and March 25 at the Springfield High School Library.