One by one, parents and school staff stepped up to the microphone of the Wynn School Library on Wednesday night.
One by one they plead their cases before the School Committee, making impassioned pleas. Some were looking to spare certain staff positions from the budget axe. Others asked that sports user fees not be increased.
More than 40 people turned out for the committee's public hearing on the 2012 budget. Most were in attendance out of concern over the committee's need to balance budget
Among the cuts being considered are library aides and certain "Appendix B" positions, such as instrument music teachers in the lower grades and a 10 percent reduction in special education aides provided by Kelley Services.
Jack Sheehy, president of the Tewksbury Music Association, said the instrument instruction at the lower grades is essential if the band program on the high school level is to be restored to its former status.
"Even though I have no children in the program anymore, I can't sit idly by and watch as this music program gets cut down and down," he said.
Parent Matt Hakala said he was concerned about the budget cuts in general and felt that the Tewksbury School District was losing its ability to compete with other school districts.
"I think it's time for an override," said Hakala, a sentiment that was echoed several times throughout the meeting. "We need to take a look beyond this year and next year and we need to take a look and see (what is needed to) make this system work better."
But it was an emotional plea from football and wrestling coach Brian Aylward, also a humanities teacher that grabbed the attention of committee members, administration and those in the gallery.
His voice cracking at times, Aylward spoke about the kids "on the bubble" in the high school, kids on that border of perhaps falling through the cracks of the system. He said many of those kids already are not involved in sports and other co-curricular activities and he drove home his belief that sports and other programs can give direction to high school students that are drifting.
He also expressed a fear that raising user fees well in excess of the $150 per sport per season that exists now, there will be many more "kids on the bubble."
Earlier, Wendy Spinelli, mother of a cheerleader, said the actual costs of a student participating in sports goes well above the $150 user fee because of equipment and shoes and other expenses.
"It would kill people to go up to $250 (user fees)," she said.
has presented the committee with three different user fee scenarios, including flat fees and tiered fees based on the expense of the sport and the number of participants.
For their part, the members of the committee listened and expressed support and sympathy for the concerns of the parents and staff members. Later in the meeting, during their budget discussion, O'Connor and committee member Jayne Miller each mentioned possible revenue sources that could help limit the cuts and fee increases required to balance the budget.
Miller proposed using some of the estimated $165,000 in the district's Hanover Funds account to offset some of the budget shortfall.
"It's not a perfect solution," said Miller. "And I don't think it's responsible to spend one-time fund on recurring costs, but ..."
O'Connor countered that the Hanover Funds may be needed for certain capital expenditures in the coming year. However, he did say that the bids for the bus service would be opened in April and it was possible that the bid price could be well below the amount the district had budgeted. He said whatever savings emerges from that line item could be used to offset the shortfall.
For his part, committee member Joseph Russell stated firmly that he wouldn't back user fee hikes.
"I will not vote for any increase of any fees," he said.
O'Connor also reminded the committee that the $679,000 being given to the school district by the town still has to be approved by voters at Town Meeting. If that transfer fails, addition school budget cuts would be needed.
"We have to come up with a Plan B (budget) in case Town Meeting doesn't go as well as we hope it will."
The committee is expected to make final decisions on the budget in April. One committee member who will not be participating is Chairman Mike Kelley, who chaired his last meeting Wednesday night. After a three-year stint on the committee, Kelley chose not to seek re-election.
Kelley was given Tewksbury Redmen clothing and a Perfecto's gift card as farewell presents from the committee members.
Kelley will be replaced by Brian Dick, who is running unopposed in the April 2 election.