Sudbury, 1890-1989, 100 years in the Life of a Town (Chapter 31)

Published April 9, 2001 | Informational - Historic Articles | Automatically Archived on 6/3/2001

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Chapter 31

Finding Space and Money

While the controversy over Proposition 2 1/2 had been settled, the School Committee still had a big problem. Since the end of the 1989 school year, 60 school-age kids had moved into town and only 25 had moved out. More school space was needed and needed in a hurry. To make matters worse, Cherry Sheet cuts brought on by the Dukakis Administration budget deficit resulted in a Town budget shortfall of some $775,000, a reduction of more than 17 percent, only part of which would be covered by an eight percent increase in the tax rate.

The School Committee was taking a hard line. It prepared two budgets for FY 91, one with override and one without and brazenly called for the renovation and expansion of the Nixon school for $9.95 million. “It’s time to make an issue of what we believe,” the Committee announced. “Let’s renovate Nixon for quality space for a quality program that we believe children deserve.” Shortly before a Special Town Meeting, the committee hedged its bet by including an alternate proposal that would renovate Nixon for $4.15 million and put off expansion until a later date.

Meanwhile the Town Fathers were hoping the assessors would bail them out by discovering unalloted funds in the abatement accounts. These overlay accounts are set aside yearly in case of abatements or refunds. The Assessors came up with $353,167.05 and were immediately asked by the Selectmen to come up with $150,000 more. A total of $775,000 was needed to balance the budget.

The Fincom responded by proposing a “menu” of override selections. Jack Hepting’s five-year financial planning ad hoc committee estimated a $675,000 shortfall for fiscal year 1991, meaning either service cuts or a 2 1/2 override. The menu gave voters the choice of an escalating series of cuts, each accompanied by a series of additional services it would allow.

On October 19, Special Town Meeting approved a modified $3.651 million proposal that would renovate Nixon school. A month and a day later, a debt exemption override for the project was passed 1,327–1,217, a margin of 110 votes.

Down the road at Lincoln-Sudbury, new Superintendent Matt King was having his problems. The combination of the previous April’s override failure and a declining enrollment was making even the most basic of services harder to deliver. Sports budgets were cut in half, prompting the Lincoln-Sudbury Boosters Club to organize a door-to-door fund drive, which raised $27,500.

King told the School Committee that a preliminary estimate of the cost of the current programs at L-S would require $9.172 million, some $772,000 more than what was expected to be available in FY 1991. The choices available to him were both Draconian–either larger class sizes or fewer course offerings.

Parents on both the high school and elementary levels were in a quandary. Many supported overriding Proposition 2 1/2 in order to give their children a better education and keep property values high, but they were outvoted by older residents seeking to keep taxes within reason during a time when a shortfall of state aid put a heavier burden on local taxpayers.

Many feared that budget cuts would hurt the competitiveness of public schools and some–around 15 percent–opted for private school educations.

As Sudbury’s seventh half-century came to a close, another blow landed. A second reduction in state aid left the town with a million dollar shortfall. But this time, nobody panicked. The Town had gone through so much during the past decade that a million dollars didn’t seem like such a big deal. If everybody pulled together, the money could be found someplace.

And so it was. Just as they had for 350 years, the residents of Sudbury closed ranks to face a common foe. This time the opposition wasn’t King Philip’s warriors or the soldiers of Britain’s General Gage, but a simple budget shortfall. It all boiled down to one simple premise: give everybody a fair shake. Before Sudbury’s 36th decade was over, sufficient funds would be raised, but more challenges lay ahead.

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Sudbury, 1890-1989, 100 years in the life of a Town, a 256-page sequel to A.S. Hudson’s History of Sudbury. Autographed copies are available from Porcupine Enterprises, 106 Woodside Road, Sudbury, MA 01776. Hardbound presentation copies are $26.25 including tax plus $3.20 postage. Trade paperbacks are $12.60 including tax plus $3.20 postage.