Debated $350,000 Included in Final School Budget

The School Committee approved a $27.15 million budget on Thursday night that includes putting $350,000 towards a reserve account rather than "giving it back" as has been proposed in both town budgets.

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.

Michelle Bailey April 12, 2011 at 07:13 PM
A direct quote from the Operational Audit by Evergreen on page 2-1 & 2: "In a widely cited 2000 report (entitled Recommendations for 21st Century School/Board/Superintendent Leadership, Governance and Teamwork for High School Achievement), Goodman and Zimmerman found that school districts with quality governance had, among other things: ... long-term service of board members and the superintendent." If you think incumbents should not serve, it seems you are finding flaws with the audit. I agree, the audit has many, many flaws. We should not expect the School Committee to rely on a flawed document to find savings.
Jay Burnham April 12, 2011 at 07:38 PM
Michelle...You make an excellent point about schools "with quality governance". That, afterall, is precisely the problem with the current school committee and previous administration...the LACK of quality governance. So you see, I am not finding flaws...but rather support. Nice try. You tried the same tactic last time with the Blue Ribbon report. It won't work.
Questionable Ethics April 13, 2011 at 06:47 PM
Tracy, are you thinking about moi? OK, I will admit that I should have chosen a less impolite characterization regarding School Committee members, and I apologize. But if I have not been opulent in my praise, then I have merely played Cordelia to the Goneril and Regan played by others. If I were to wager, I would bet that the School Committee members rather enjoy the feedback and even find my blog to be mildly entertaining. Pace Kim and others, being a leader is not just about managing complacent citizens in some sort of dystopian society -- it is about engaging them and leading them with a vision. No one is questioning their dedication and passion for their often thankless work. But I am not happy with this decision, and, like Cordelia, I cannot heave my heart into my mouth. And even if I could, it probably wouldn't be a pretty sight. I mean, really. Do you really want to see a heart in anyone's mouth? Yuck. QE
Carol A Mazzetta May 15, 2011 at 02:22 PM
Let me get this straight, giving us back "OUR" money is "FLAWED" letting the schools keep my money is not "FLAWED!!
Carol A Mazzetta May 15, 2011 at 02:30 PM
It's a moot point now, we will be getting our money back as voted at town meeting yesterday. I also noticed as soon as the vote was taken & passed the auditorium was almost empty, which shows that the special interest groups only care about thier agenda. Not one stayed to take care of town business being voted on. I want to thank everyone who stayed , which proves we care about the whole town and not just the schools.


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