The School Committee approved a 2012 budget on Thursday night that requires level funding from both Hamilton and Wenham but proposes spending more than either town has proposed in its own version of the budget.
At issue was whether $350,000 goes into the school excess and deficiency, or “E and D” account - essentially a savings account - or whether it’s removed from the budget as a “giveback” to the towns.
In the end, the committee endorsed a $27.15 million budget that included the $350,000 going into the excess and deficiency fund. It was a 7-2 vote, with members Don Gallant and Ann Minois in opposition.
Since Minois and Gallant comprise two-third of the School Committee’s Finance Subcommittee, the smaller budget was actually brought to the committee first. It took a motion from Vice-chairman Jack O’Keefe to put the higher budget, with the $350,000 included, before the committee for consideration.
It’s the committee-approved budget of $27.15 million, with the $350,000 towards the excess and deficiency fund that will go to each Town Meeting – first in on May 7 and then on May 14.
To complicate matters, the budget each town proposed doesn’t match the School Committee’s budget. In Hamilton, town leaders have proposed a budget with a combined $350,000 “giveback” to both towns and in Wenham the budget call for the number to be $500,000.
The majority of the School Committee said the $350,000 is needed in the excess and deficiency fund to cover any unanticipated expenses in the coming year and to help cushion of the blow or what could likely be a large budget gap for the 2013 budget.
“I don’t see any reason to give it back,” said committee member Richard Boroff.
Committee member Dacia Rubel called it an “extremely tight” 2012 budget and said the money is needed is the excess and deficiency fund to allow the school district to have flexibility.
“It should be robust,” she said about the excess and deficiency fund, “and we should be able to have that in case of an emergency.”
Plus, it will help with a 2013 budget, which “could be a devastating situation,” she said.
“It’s not advancing our school system in any way,” committee member Tess Leary said about the budget before the final vote. “It is keeping us afloat, at best.”
With the $350,000 “giveback,” Minois said she is “reasonably comfortable” with the amount of money that would be left in the excess and deficiency account.
Gallant said the expected excess and deficiency amount - $1.03 million – would be one of the highest amounts he has seen in 19 years on the committee, he said in citing his reason to be one of two members to support the so-called giveback. In support of his position, Gallant said last year’s budget resulted in taxpayers being overtaxed and said last summer when the School Committee realized it overbudgeted for step increase and unemployment payments it should have gone back and revoted a lower budget.
Hamilton Finance Committee Chairman John McWane confirmed with the committee that with either budget – both were presented to the full committee – the funding of the schools operation is the same.
The question, he said, is “should it go in to your E and D or should it go in the taxpayers pocket?”
McWane said the Hamilton Finance Committee favors a $350,000 so-called giveback to the towns.
Wenham Finance Committee Chairman Roger Kuebel told the board that both towns now have a budget that will go before voters will a smaller budget than the one approved by the School Committee.
“At the moment the towns don’t agree,” he said.
In a small technical hiccup, the board had to revote about 10 minutes after its initial vote, because it took one vote to approve the amended budget. Instead, the amendment to put a $27.1 million budget before the committee versus the Finance Committee’s proposed $26.8 million budget, had to be voted first. Then the amended budget was the subject of the final vote. Both votes were 7-2.