School board signs off on $3 million in budget cuts
The Board of Education, less than a month after the Representative Town Meeting approved a nearly $142 million education budget for 2010-11 that was $3 million less than school officials wanted, voted Tuesday night on spending cuts to reconcile the gap.
The budget reflecting the $3 million in cuts will take effect July 1.
The public was provided with a worksheet that included a list of "definite" reductions, "recommended" reductions, a proposed cut in music programs that fell into a "more board discussion needed" category and seven areas not recommended for cuts by the education board's Finance, Budget and Community Committee.
The board didn't touch anything in the "not recommended" category. However, it did agree to cut everything in "definite" and "recommended" columns, from special education excess cost reimbursement ($328,500), to elimination of a late bus on Tuesdays to two middle schools and the two high schools ($11,266), and reducing capital expenditures at all levels by 50 percent ($74,856).
However, "the bulk where we took the hit was in technology and maintenance," said Sue Brand, chairman of the Board of Education. A cut of $394,347 was made in the combined technology accounts of $2.7 million and maintenance was reduced $153,588 from the requested $2.5 million.
The board was able to include $1.6 million from the medical insurance fund among the cuts. The estimates in the medical reserve account rose significantly since December. BOE member Tim Kery noted there was a swing from a negative $162,000 in the fund to nearly $2 million now.
He worried about taking as much as $1.6 million from the surplus of $1.9 million since officials cannot predict if there might be a run on health claims.
"Quite frankly, I'm uncomfortable with the level of risk we're taking," he said.
Kery said if the medical insurance figure could rise as much as it did in six months, it could "fluctuate down just as quickly."
Superintendent of Schools Ann Clark responded, "We believe we have more than adequately funded this account, even with the $1.6 million cut," she said.
Bonnie McWain, finance director for the public schools, added, "We are not in a position to second-guess the insurance consultants."
BOE member Catherine Albin said the board didn't know "we were going to have this good trending in September and we're only seeing it now."
She added, however, it would be helpful to have more frequent accounting.
The $3 million in overall reductions also included seven retirements beyond the 10 that were anticipated (a savings of $255,600); elimination of a secretarial position with benefits ($44,979); reduction of a professional development coordinator ($41,570); no new full-time person hired for the music program ($36,736); and increasing the average group size of string instrument classes in grades 6 through 8 ($48,981).
Some took issue with increasing the size of the strings classes. Clark, however, noted the recommendation was accepted by the head of the music curriculum and the head of the middle school district.
The various cuts were unanimously approved by the education board.