MetroWest Daily News: Westborough’s stimulus aid could shrink more

By John Fenuccio

WESTBOROUGH -School Committee members last night called on state Sen. James Eldridge, D-Acton, to fight for fairer state funding for Westborough.

The committee asked Eldridge to attend its meeting for the first time after learning last week that the proposed state House of Representatives budget leaves Westborough with $250,000 less in federal stimulus aid than expected.

Town officials first anticipated $560,000, but have since revised their projection to $317,000, and figure which they now expect to drop further.

Eldridge said the state Senate announced yesterday that the House of Representatives based its consensus revenue number on $19.5 billion in state revenue from January.

Eldridge said he didn’t think that was the right approach because revenues have declined significantly in the last three months, with the Senate’s budget based on $17.9 billion.

This means Westborough could see even more cuts because the new budget figures are based on $1.6 billion less in state revenue.

“We just want to know so we can plan appropriately,” School Committee member Bruce Tretter said. “We have people in this room right now who’s jobs are directly affected. We just want to know how to deal with this and move on.”

Eldridge said he will plead the town’s case, including fairness in education funding, at the State House.

“I know that Westborough, for many years, has not received adequate funding and we worked very hard to change the foundation a few years ago, but really because of the economic crisis that’s in jeopardy,” he said.

While he didn’t specify, Eldridge said he’s advocating for tax increases, which could include meals and sales tax increases that would generate revenue, rather than submitting to the proposed cuts in aid to cities and towns statewide.

“I find these cuts unacceptable,” Eldridge said. “Massachusetts is one of the richest states in the country. It has a worsening economy, but we’re in a better situation than other states, so I think its unacceptable for these cuts to happen.”

“Raising taxes in this economy is the worst thing that could be done,” Doret said. “I think all that anybody in the commonwealth ever asked for was for fair treatment.”

School officials previously recommended cutting 17 or 18 staff positions, including teachers, counselors, paraprofessionals and custodians, to help close a $770,000 fiscal 2010 budget gap – at a time when the district anticipated receiving $557,000 in federal stimulus money.

With the amount of federal stimulus aid seemingly decreasing by the week, the total number of staff cuts throughout the school district are likely to increase, officials said.

The school’s budget for fiscal 2010 is about $40 million.

“Quite honestly, almost all of the stimulus funds, including the stabilization money, it’s really up to the governor to how he enforces this,” Eldridge said. “I know the House indicated a certain intent last week, but at the end of the day it’s really up to the governor.”