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Councilors set to vote on ordinance for school funds

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

AGAWAM At the City Council's Sept. 2 meeting, councilors will be asked once again to approve an ordinance to appropriate monies denied to the School Department in the fiscal year 2009 (FY09) budget.

On June 16, the council adopted the FY09 budget, which included a $33.9 million budget for the School Department an increase of 5.45 percent over FY08 denying the department's requested $34.1 million budget. The budget approved by the council, a difference of approximately $181,000, excluded funding for middle school reading textbooks, junior high school foreign language textbooks, video equipment for the high school's video production class and funding for a secretary at the middle school library.

The ordinance before the council on Sept. 2 calls for a one-time appropriation of $70,000 from the town's Stabilization Fund -- a savings account used for emergencies -- for the reading and foreign language textbooks and video production equipment. Earlier this summer, the council defeated a similar ordinance requesting a one-time appropriation of $72,000 from the Stabilization Fund for the materials. The ordinance was defeated with a six to three vote, with councilors Jill Simpson and George Bitzas absent. Councilors Donald Rheault, Robert Rossi and Cecilia Calabrese did not vote in favor of the ordinance.

In an interview with Reminder Publications, Mayor Susan Dawson said she placed the revised ordinance on the agenda at the urging of Bitzas and the School Committee's Budget Subcommittee.

"There is plenty of money [in the town's $400,000 Stabilization Fund] to do this if considered a priority by the council," Dawson said, adding that she is "still encouraging" Superintendent Mary Czajkowski to review the department's budget in the hopes of finding excess funding to cover these expenses.

"Certainly I appreciate that [ordinance] being placed on the agenda for consideration and would hope the City Council would see the need to support it," Czajkowski said.

Rossi said he believes that the new ordinance is "totally inappropriate" because the council already voted on the issue.

"The motion is totally out of order. It is nothing more than an amended ordinance," he said. "My question is, how long do we intend to play this game [of lowering the amount]?"

Rossi added that if any further ordinances come before the council with lower amounts he will keep voting against them.

"The School Department should better prioritize their budget," he said. "If those books were so important why did the superintendent slash them from the budget? If those books are so important they can find $72,000 in their budget. I personally believe it is a slap in the face asking the City Council to dip into the stabilization account, which is an emergency account, to subsidize that $34 million [budget] with $72,000."

City Councilor Paul Cavallo, also a member of the City Council's School Department Budget Subcommittee, who voted in favor of the previous ordinance to appropriate $72,000, said he will not be voting in favor of the $70,000 appropriation.

"The motion [to appropriate the money] was made two weeks ago and was defeated," Cavallo said. "You can do that [lower the appropriation] every time a motion is defeated."

Cavallo stated that he was not against education or providing students with the best possible materials, however, it is a matter of principle. He added that the appropriation was defeated and should not come before the council again in any dollar amount.

The council will voted on TR-2008-46 at their next meeting in the Agawam Middle School Auditorium beginning at 7 p.m.