By Michael B Guarco Jr.
Chair, Board of Finance
The boards of selectmen, education and finance have forwarded a proposal to town meeting that recognizes the current and long-lasting decline of Granby school enrollment. Board members believe it provides the rationale to close one of the town’s three elementary schools. Doing this will cost some upfront money for building modifications and moving between the schools, but will create projected savings of approximately $1 million dollars in operating costs per year.
For the better part of a year, the Board of Education and school administration have sought the best way to manage the impact of declining enrollment on the school system and its cost. This phenomenon is not peculiar to Granby; it is prevalent in most, if not nearly all, towns across the state and across the nation. Part cyclical, it is exacerbated by the impact of the lack of real recovery from the great recession. Granby’s school enrollment hit a peak of between 1,800 to 1,900 students back in the late 70s, only to see it decline to about 1,400 in the early 90s. Then, not quite a decade ago, it hit a new peak of some 2,300 to 2,400 students, but has now dropped to around 1,900, It is expected that this trend will continue in a slow slide to about 1,400 a decade from now according to the State’s enrollment projections for Granby. This is not a temporary aberration of a couple of low-birth-rate years, but rather a long-term trend being seen across the nation—a product of the cyclical nature of demographics combined with the cautious family building seen during a bad economy.
Recognizing these trends and their implications on the school system, the Board of Education and administration have acted appropriately in balancing their desire to provide a superior education for our children with the need to manage the costs of doing so. The boards of selectmen and finance, concurring with its decision, have advanced a capital project resolution to town meeting for action.
The Board of Selectmen have set Monday, Dec. 14 for this town meeting in the high school auditorium at 7:30 p.m. Eligible voters attending the meeting will approve or reject this action. Under the terms of the town charter, capital expenditures equivalent to less than 3 percent of the tax levy (roughly $1 million), but above the Board of Finance approval limit of half of that, must be sent to town meeting for approval.
The resolution calls for spending up to $800,000 for building modifications, as well as moving furnishings and playscape equipment to facilitate and accommodate the proposed grade transitions and consolidations. This includes about $65,000 in contingency with hard construction costs of roughly $600,000, and moving equipment, furnishings, and outside playscapes being about $125,000. The budget breakout will be more closely discussed at the town meeting.
After this project and the transition is completed, the annual savings in reductions from the existing budget base are projected to be about $1 million in each year going forward. Most of the first year’s savings will be used to replenish the funding source chosen to pay for this project. The $800,000 would come from the capital set-aside account rather than by borrowing or bonding. This amount would then be replaced from the savings realized in FY17. Transferring unspent money from past capital projects as they were permanently closed funded the capital set-aside account for its intended purpose: to assist in leveling the mill rate change over the next few years.
While the three boards have advanced the proposal this far, they now send it forward to town meeting for action by the public. Your support is sought to approve this measure at the Town Meeting at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 14, in the high school auditorium.