ANDOVER - Eliminating freshman and junior varsity sports at the high school and closing all school buildings after 4 p.m. may be part of the plan to help close a projected $2 million school budget deficit.

A preliminary "action plan" to close the gap also includes increasing class sizes at all schools, requiring teachers to fill in regularly as substitutes, and scrapping the scheduling formats now in use at the high school and three middle schools.

School Department Business Manager Bernie Tuttle discussed the plan at Monday's School Committee meeting, along with his budget forecast for next fiscal year beginning July 1.

"There's kind of a shopping list here," Tuttle said. "It at least gives us a road map as we travel trying to deal with our deficit. We'll see what happens."

The School Committee has not yet discussed Tuttle's plan.

"It's just recommendations that he's put out for consideration," said School Committee member Dennis Forgue when asked to comment on the list of 20 items. "It's too early."

School Committee Chairwoman Deb Silberstein said the months of budget planning ahead will likely present many tough choices.

"We have reached a pivotal moment for education in Andover," Silberstein said. "There are some big decisions that the School Committee and the community are going to need to make."

Tuttle is forecasting that the School Department budget will increase 4.3 percent next fiscal year to $62.3 million. Town Manager Reginald "Buzz" Stapczynski has projected that just over $60 million will be available for the schools.

Although the roughly $2 million shortfall estimate is smaller than what officials worked to close this fiscal year, School Superintendent Claudia Bach said it could be more difficult to tackle given that the equivalent of 40 full-time positions were eliminated over the summer.

"With 40 positions lost, (there are) fewer places to go," Bach told the Committee on Monday.

Guided by community feedback, Silberstein said officials must first identify the school district's priorities before deciding on what to cut and what to keep.

She said such was the case during budget planning for this year, when increases to elementary and middle school class sizes were for the most part avoided.

Tuttle's plan includes increasing class sizes at all levels of education to the maximum allowed under School Committee policy. At the high school and middle schools that is 29 students. The max for elementary schools ranges from 27 to 29 students, depending on grade level.

Like the threat of bigger classes, major cuts to the high school athletic program have made waves in recent years but ultimately have never not come to pass.

The School Department proposed eliminating high school athletics entirely two tears ago before a budget agreement was cobbled together that spared the program.

Next year, Tuttle has only included eliminating freshman and junior varsity sports in his plan.

Also on the list: requiring teachers to fill in as substitutes up to twice a week; scrapping block scheduling at the high school and team schedules at the middle schools in favor of seven periods per day; reducing the number of high school and middle school guidance counselors; and staggering the start of the school day at the six elementary schools if fewer buses are required.

To read the entire list, go to www.eagletribune.com.

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