School Committee sets 2021 budget request

Seeks four percent increase from taxpayers
Thu, 02/13/2020 - 7:30pm

The New Shoreham School Committee has approved a $5,526,839 budget for fiscal year 2021, an overall increase of $284,046 or 5.4 percent, over the current year.

Although the overall budget increase will be 5.4 percent, the town’s allocation will be less. The budget request asks $203,416 more from the town, an increase of four percent over the current year.

The unanimous 4-0 vote on Monday, Feb. 10, came after weeks of back and forth at budget workshops about how to reduce the scale of an increase to a percentage that the town administration, council and voters would approve. (School Committee member Kara Stinnett was absent.)

Superintendent Michael Convery had earlier recommended cutting a total of $252,202 from the new budget. Two positions were to be eliminated: the Secondary Principal, due to John Canole’s mid-year resignation, and one Special Education Teacher, due to Kathy Martin’s retirement, saving a total of $116,359. Recommended cuts to non-personnel budget lines in that version totaled $98,887.

At the last budget workshop on Feb. 4, School Committee Chair William Padien directed Convery and School Finance Director Melanie Reeves to rework their recommendations and come back with two budget plans that would increase the amount requested from the town by either 4.0 percent or 4.6 percent.

On Feb. 10, Padien asked if both budgets “include those additions that we were talking about last week: putting back the assistant principal... and some of those other items we talked about?”

“Yes,” replied Reeves. “The expenses are the same for both of them, just the revenues are different.”

The revenue difference was a policy choice: whether or not to use $30,000 of the school department’s unreserved fund balance to reduce the amount and percentage of the tax-funded increase. Both budgets are balanced, with revenue and expenses totaling $5,526,839.

Drawing down the fund balance – surplus money raised from taxes and appropriated for the school, but not spent in a previous year – by $30,000, instead of increasing the new budget request to the town by $30,000, would reduce the percentage increase in the town’s appropriation by six-tenths of one percent, from 4.6 to 4.0 percent. The total fund balance is currently about $265,000, Reeves said, but $183,000 of that amount is reserved for “emergencies” leaving $81,000 available to fill gaps. Using $30,000 from the balance next year would leave an effective cushion of $50,000.

Specific cuts restored

Convery confirmed that the latest budget proposal restored the five items the School Committee had asked for in the Feb. 4 meeting:

$35,000 (approximately) for a second administrator, replacing John Canole, who has resigned.

$3,000 for cultural activities’ travel (cutting the coordinator’s position).

$5,400 for Close Up/Boston, instead of eliminating the trips.

$5,000 added back for instructional supplies; new amount $37,992.

$1,500 added back for library books; new amount $5,000.

Rehiring for the special education teacher position, held by Martin for 16 years, was not included in the Superintendent’s recommendations. The out-of-district tuition line was set at $154,000, continuing the unexpected expense amount that helped cause this year’s school budget deficit.

Chair Padien was cautious about how the Town Council would receive their recommendations. The Council’s hearing on the school budget is set for March 11 at 7:00 p.m.

“I just want us to be prepared with this list,” Padien said to the other members, “if we have to come back to this number based on what the actual fund balance amount is,” or if the Council tells the School Committee to cut its recommendations back further.

Padien also wanted the memo accompanying the proposed school budget to explain “where we started from and where we ended.” He noted that the committee’s first “go-through” resulted in an 8.5 percent increase in the budget request to the town, which would now be reduced by half.

“And,” Padien continued, “that we know the dollar figure” of the difference between the 8.5 percent and the final increase “is the same number we would use from the fund balance, which is already taxpayers’ money” appropriated in previous years.

Members had reservations about the wisdom, or the strategy, of forwarding a budget with either a 4.0 percent or a 4.6 percent increase – either of which, members Jessica Willi and Persephone Brown said, would be “a big number,” and “a hard sell.” Padien agreed: “It’s a hard sell every year.”

Padien made the motion to have the Local Appropriations sent to the town with the 2020-2021 budget to be a 4.0 percent increase over the 2019-2020 budget. There was further comment on the process and the likelihood that other organizations, and the town departments, would all be asking for the “same pot of money” that the town administration and council would be recommending as an increase in the overall town budget. The motion was then unanimously adopted.