School Officials Have Plan to Avoid Financial Problems This Year

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Last school year, the Watertown Public Schools had to freeze spending when they had a major mid-year deficit, but they ended up with a large surplus.

The Fiscal 2014 budget looked like it could be a major problem for Watertown school officials, who froze spending in January when the school budget ran $926,000 in the red, said Superintendent Jean Fitzgerald.

The district turned it around, but officials still appeared to have a major problem in June when they though they needed to make up a shortfall in the special education budget of about $640,000. It turns out the money was not needed.

At Monday’s School Committee meeting, Watertown Director of Business Services Charles Kellner said the district ended the year with a $770,00 surplus. The money was transferred into the Fiscal 2015 Special Education Circuit Breaker Account to pay for high-cost special education students.

School officials looked back at what happened to try to figure out how the school budget got so far into the red, Fitzgerald said.

“Now as we look back at what happened, this was the first time we encumbered the payroll,” Fitzgerald said. “Hopefully it will not happen again.”

Part of the problem was the schools gets the Special Education Circuit Breaker money from the state, but it had not been accounted for, said School Committee Chairwoman Eileen Hsu-Balzer.

“It was a timing issue. The money due to us from the state had not yet hit our accounts and the way the town was doing the accounting we were out that money, even though we knew it was coming,” Hsu-Balzer said.

The district’s food service was also running in the negative, and the district is taking steps to make it profitable including hiring a new food services director.

During most of Fiscal Year 2014 Watertown did not have a business services director. Kellner was hired in June.

This year, a new account will be created to avoid the same problem, Fitzgerald said.

“We set up a special (budget) line item to allow us to bill against the state money even though we don’t have it,” Fitzgerald said.

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