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Plan to Emerge Monday Night for Presenting Differing School Spending Numbers

The plan for presenting two different 2012 Hamilton-Wenham School District funding numbers at Town Meetings will be presented on Monday night.

The method for introducing two different school funding numbers to Town Meeting voters will be unveiled at Town Meeting warrant hearings on Monday night.

Town leaders in both Hamilton and Wenham said last week that attorneys for both towns and the school district have been working together to present a plan for introducing to Town Meeting voters the – one budget from the School Committee and proposals from the Boards of Selectmen in both towns to contribute less.

“We had hoped to have had a memo tonight to have read and distributed,” Wenham Town Administrator Jeff Chelgren said at last Thursday night’s Budget Process committee budget presentation.

But the plan was still in the works at that time and instead was expected to be ready for Monday night's at 7:30 p.m. at and the Hamilton Town Meeting warrant hearing at 7 p.m. at .

“We think it is a more appropriate venue for that,” Chelgren said.

Both Chelgren and Bill Bowler, a Hamilton selectman who is chairman of the Budget Process Committee, said the best place to deal with the differing school budget funding numbers is the warrant public hearings.

The School Committee has approved a $27.65 million budget for fiscal 2012. But the Boards of Selectmen in both towns have supported a combined contribution from both towns of $500,000 less, with each town’s share of that being decided by it’s current school enrollment.

The issue essentially boils down to the amount of money that goes in the schools’ excess and deficiency fund, known as “E and D,” that serves as a reserve account for unanticipated expenses. The amount spent on school operations would not be affected under either plan.

At Thursday’s Budget Process Committee presentation, Assistant Superintendent Peter Gray said that the $500,000 “giveback” – the term that’s been given to the amount of money Selectmen are asking that school budget be reduced – would leave the schools with a smaller E and D account than state education officials recommend.

With a $500,000 giveback, the schools' E and D account next year would stand at $589,543, or 2.1 percent of the budget.

"That does not leave the School Committee with much flexibility if we find us in a crunch during the year," Gray said.

The maximum amount is 5 percent and the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education says 3 percent is "reasonable and prudent."

John McWane, chairman of the Hamilton Finance Committee, asked Gray to later detail how he arrived at the latest estimate of the anticipated E and D balance under the $500,000 "giveback" scenario. 

McWane wasn't sure how Gray arrived at the number since the E and D account started at $995,000 and the 2011 budget is expected to be underspent by $981,000. Gray said he would provide it at Thursday night's School Committee meeting.

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