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Still Seeking Revenue to Close School Deficit

One-time money and new sources could reduce $665K hole in district budget.

When the town initially came out in November with its estimate on available revenue – the total money to pay for services in town for the next fiscal year starting July 1 – the total came out to be $73,650,000.

And four months later, at a joint meeting of the and the this past Friday, March 16, the number were recalculated to find the revenue figure is now $73,652,000, a difference of 2,000 extra dollars for the town and schools to spend.

Even though the difference is a positive and not a negative, it is far from the $665,383 hole the Belmont School District now finds itself attempting to fill to reach its level service budget for the 2013.

While the initial response from is to cut nearly 11 full-time positions to save $475,000 in salaries to help reach level service, it appears that additional funds – from never before sources and savings in health care – along with some creative budgeting could see the gap drop significantly, resulting in saving teaching positions.

One area the Warrant Committee – the group that helps guard Town Meeting against undesirable practices in budgetary matters – has identified as additional funds is in new housing growth and cost decreases in the town's ambulance lease. Yet both will only raise about $60,000, a tenth of school needs. 

They also predict that any additional state aid, which helped the schools nearly to meet their budget goals last year, is not to be more than an additional $25,000.

Yet two members of the joint meeting identified two areas that were overlooked as they are new to the budget process. , who is about to retire on April 2, pointed to a new excise tax on school buses which, in his belief, "could be substantial" in the $50,000 to $60,000 range.

In addition, savings in the first year of health care savings with the implementation of planned design benefits, according to the School Committee's Dan Scharfman. While the savings must be shared with town employees through collective bargaining, "there is savings over the first three years." 

One time only

But the largest pot of money sitting in town coffers is what is called "one-time cash adjustments": one time only funding to the town.

This year that includes:

• $300,000 from an error caught by the Department of Revenue in the Sewer Enterprise Fund,

• $250,000 in snow removal funding, thanks to a unseasonal mild winter,

• $140,000 in a transfer of Federal Emergency Management Agency for aid, and

• $25,000 in the collection of back taxes.

While it is highly unlikely that the Warrant Committee would approve the use of one-time funds for reoccurring costs such as salaries, Selectmen Chairman Ralph Jones said that "in theory, we can use these numbers."

In the past week, Warrant Committee Chairwoman Elizabeth Allison noted that in times where communities have greater-than-usual amounts of free cash and lower-than-normal annual revenue, the one-off money would be used to free up an equal amount of one-time town expenses. That funding could then be transferred to the schools to close the more than half-million dollar deficit. 

"It does take creative thinking to accomplish this task but" it is possible, said Allison at this past Wednesday's Warrant Committee meeting.

There will be a public hearing on Tuesday, April 10, in which School Committee Chairwoman Laurie Graham hopes the committee will have "firmer numbers" to present to residents.

"We will be listening to the community for recommendations" on how to meet student and educator needs in the coming year, said Graham.

StillCrazy March 20, 2012 at 08:02 AM
Why does it seem that every year it is the same story from the "school side" of the budget, they are given a budget amount but it is never enough they always "need" more. You don't hear of the same complaint on the "town side" of the budget, they appear to be given a budget amount and that is what they get and that is what they live with. I'm sure there are many things on the "town side" that would be helpful or improvements, but since the money isn't there, they don't happen and there isn't a big fuss about it.
Towney March 20, 2012 at 05:44 PM
Hmm...maybe that's because the Town continues to underfund the schools: providing inadequate funding to support the programs that residents want and expect. That requires the schools to keep coming back each year and saying "we don't have enough money to pay for these programs that our residents want." Rather than doing the right and sensible thing and passing a prop 2 1/2 override to generate the added revenue to pay for the programs, the town does what its doing now: uses one time funds and turning over sofa cushions to scrape together just enough to keep scores of teachers from losing their jobs. The result is a long, slow decline in the quality of education.

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