School and Town officials have been looking into why the school budget got in such bad shape that a spending freeze was put into place, and then why the schools ended up with a budget surplus.
The budget appeared so out of balance in January that freezes were made on most purchases, including paper for classrooms. This move was made after Town Auditor Tom Tracy recommended the School Administration do so.
Special education costs also came in higher that expected, and on May 20, 2014 Superintendent Jean Fitzgerald reported a $640,000 shortfall. A week later the deficit has been adjusted to $355,000 and by June 2 the “perceived deficit” was gone, according to a report by the Council’s Education and School Systems Matters Committee.
In August, the School Department reported a surplus of $770,000. Most of the money was carried over to the School Department’s Fiscal 2015 Circuit Breaker fund.
The committee looked into the reasons for the perceived deficit and ultimate surplus.
First, the School District operated without a business manager.
“A seasoned business manager would have been able to explain why deficits were appearing early in the year and point to forecasted revenue or disencumberences that would cover them,” the Committee report reads.
Over the summer, the School Committee hired a new business manager, Charles Kellner. Also, a study of the school district’s budget has been commissioned, and the town recently put out a request for proposals for firms to do the study.
To avoid a similar situation, school officials have put in new accounting practices to encumber staff salaries from the beginning of the fiscal year. The funds to cover the salaries did not come until late in the year.
The new business manager should be able to foresee the shortfalls and see identify which items will be covered the late-arriving monies, according to the report. If there is still a shortfall, the money carried over in the Fiscal 2015 Circuit Breaker fund should cover the deficit.
Special education costs for just one student can reach be in the tens of thousands of dollars or even hundreds of thousands. This is an area of concern for schools, but the Circuit Breaker funds will help cover any unanticipated special education costs.