By Max Bowenfirstname.lastname@example.org
North Schools may need to make some tough calls to balance a potential $1.7 million budget deficit.
At the Nov. 2 School Committee meeting, Business Administrator David Flynn said that at the start of the fiscal year, there was an $850,000 deficit. This was caused by the school budget being level funded at $41.1 million, far less than what was requested. The budget proposal asked for nothing new, just was what was needed to maintain staffing levels and cover necessary purchases.
Flynn said that as the year went on, the hope was that the schools would be able to cover the funding gap. However, there have been several areas where lost revenue could increase the deficit to as much as $1.7 million. This includes bus and kindergarten fees being waived, as well as lost money from games and facility rentals.
“To start the year we were OK,” said Flynn. “$850,000 is a small amount we could coast through, but now it’s not looking like that’s a viable plan to get us through June.”
There is also a significant loss of money from the Circuit Breaker Fund, which covers Special Education tuition. The Circuit Breaker state reimbursement program was started in FY04 to provide additional state funding to districts for high-cost special education students. Flynn said that normally, the town receives $869,000, but due to impacts from the pandemic, that has dropped to $742,000 this fiscal year.
“There’s no other source to pay for this tuition,” said Flynn.
An early plan was to use the money allotted to the schools from the recent Proposition 2 ½ override—approximately $1 million—to cover the deficit. But Flynn told the committee that the money can only be used for curriculum, technology, or facilities-related costs, and covering the budget gap doesn’t meet the criteria.
“None of those [costs] were supposed to be used out of the override,” he said.
The schools have received a considerable amount of federal funding through the CARES Act and FEMA. However, this is only for COVID-19-related costs, such as face masks and cleanings of the buses and buildings. They cannot be spent on other items not related to the pandemic. Town Manager Michael Borg has pledged to return $280,000 to the schools, given back to the town in the early days of the pandemic to offset potential cuts.
During the budget discussion, the subject turned to the $4.6 million in Free Cash that was recently certified. This is a combination of unspent funds in the last fiscal year, $3.2 million in turnbacks from various departments, and $1 million in capital projects that were put on hold. Town Council President Keith Lapointe, who also serves as representative to the School Committee, said that money needs to be saved, as it’s expected that Local Aid will take a hit in this and the next fiscal year.
“We need to save every penny we can, because there are cuts that are going to come that they’re [Free Cash] going to have to cover,” he said. “There is not some secret vault with $4.6 million in it.”