By Max Bowenfirstname.lastname@example.org
As North Attleborough town government works to restructure its finances amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, school officials have been faced with a sudden change to the budget.
At a meeting of the Finance Subcommittee on Wednesday, May 20, Town Manager Michael Borg said that the School Committee had submitted an approved budget of $42.3 million. However, due to the anticipated 10-30 percent drop in Local Aid and reduction to local receipts—estimated at 11.4 percent—all departments have had to make adjustments. As such, the schools have been given a new budget figure of $41.1 million, approximately $1.25 million less than what was sought, though $470,000 more than last year’s.
“We’ve had discussions with the superintendent and looked at what we could accommodate,” said Borg, describing this as a level-service budget.
School Superintendent Scott Holcomb said that the budget subcommittee will need to review this figure and decide what to do. Some potential moves to lessen the gap include not spending $200,000 on technology support staff and another $200,000 on new tech purchases. In addition, the schools have approximately $880,000 in funds from the override that could be allocated to curriculum, technology, and facilities-related expenses. This money was supposed to be used for improvement projects such as a new weight room at the high school and upgrades to the auditorium.
Holcolmb added that if the budget subcommittee didn’t want to take this route, cutting programs may come next.
“When times get better, we want to follow through on these projects,” said Holcomb. “I want to make sure we deliver those things to the people.”
As part of the budget adjustments, every department was asked to turn back unused funds. Business Administrator David Flynn said the schools were able to turn back $288,000 in substitute teaching, transportation, and utility expenses.
“It’s quite a large savings,” said Flynn.
The discussion also looked at what changes may be needed for the upcoming academic year. At this time, schools are set to reopen in the fall, but just what will need to be done to ensure student safety is an unknown. Some have asked if the same number of students can be in the schools as before, or how more cleaning supplies can be paid for.
Borg had announced earlier this week that the town had been given access up to $2.5 million through the CARES Act, which offers reimbursement for expenses related to the pandemic. This will be made available to the schools as well, and could cover costs related to additional cleaning in those buildings. Ultimately, the confirmed reduction to local aid would be a defining factor in what adjustments need to be made, said Borg.
“We’re just going to hold the course and react when we have that number and make the hard choices if we have to,” he said.