flag image

Gift supports the arts

Family donates to help offset cuts

Dale Hanley (click for larger version)
July 14, 2009
SOUTHBRIDGE — Hoping to plant a seed for a top-quality program, Alex and Joanne Zotos told the School Committee they'll be putting $500 into an account for music at the new high school. They said they hope to deposit at least $500 a year until the school opens.

"Our son passed away four years ago, and his life was music, so we decided to start something for local children," Joanne Zotos said, noting the money can be used for "whatever pertains to the music department."

Ideally, she said, the funds will help upgrade the school's instruments, especially to promote guitar and singing, her son Stephan's favorite activities.

"They don't really have a lot of instruments now," she added.

The donation is only part of their effort. The Zotos' are also organizing a doo-wop concert at 12 Crane St. on July 25, with "all proceeds going to local schools."

"When the budget's cut, the arts go first," Alex Zotos said, noting he'd like to see the new school include a film and video program, camera crew and equipment and good writing. His wife added, "We want to make it a well-rounded program so nothing's left out."

Beyond that, the committee held their pro-forma "reorganization" meeting, unanimously returning Jack Jovan and David DiGregorio to the chair and vice chair, respectively. Otherwise, they primarily discussed budgetary issues.

Business Manager Courtney Keegan and Superintendent Dale Hanley said they've been working with administrators about standardizing budget tracking after discovering various discrepancies including "invoices with no purchase orders."

"We have a very, very tight budget this year," Hanley said. "… So we have to be very careful with what money we do have."

That amount is going down, she added. In June, the schools had to cut about $411,000 and learned June 29 they'll have to cut another $300,000 to balance the budget after reductions in state aid. Exactly what will be cut will depend in part on a joint meeting with the Education and Human Services subcommittee, which had not yet been scheduled.

Jovan said the district met the first reduction goal largely by freezing vacant jobs, not filling retirements, eliminating the resource officers, and similar acts. The second round will probably require cuts in professional development, curriculum and elsewhere, but he didn't immediately have a complete list.

"Those are all important things for the turnaround plan," Jovan added.

That plan is the state's framework for getting Southbridge out of the "underperforming" category. Earlier, Hanley said she had recently met with the state's education commissioner and was told that all six of Southbridge's reasons for being labeled that way "have been cleared" except for the "adequate yearly progress" measure. She said she did not know what the state will do, but sees no reason the state would delay revoking the "underperforming" designation.

Jovan agreed, saying Southbridge needs to watch what Boston does closely, in part because there is some talk of the government taking over underperforming schools. Among other things, the state wants improvements in professional development, technology and textbooks, and Southbridge has done those things.

"What more are [they] going to do?" he asked.

Before going into executive session for contract negotiations, the committee voted unanimously to prepay up to $50,000 in special education tuition from leftover fiscal 2009 money. Keegan said she did not know how much is left, but it was very unlikely to be more than that.

Gus Steeves can be reached at 508-909-4135 or by e-mail at gsteeves@stonebridgepress.com.

Stonebridge Press
inclusion image
inclusion image
Thanks for visiting Stonebridge Press and Villager Newspapers