By Max Bowenemail@example.com
North Attleborough Schools’ Chapter 70 funds are going to be far higher than expected.
Town Manager Michael Borg said the House and Senate had both agreed on a state fiscal year 2021 budget, which will go to Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk for signing. Normally approved early in the year, budget work was delayed until the full impact of COVID-19 could be determined.
North Attleborough is slated to receive $2.4 million more than planned through Chapter 70, the program of state aid to public elementary and secondary schools. In earlier budget discussions, it was anticipated that the number would be approximately $2 million lower. All told, the schools will receive approximately $20 million through Chapter 70.
Because of this adjustment, an amount equal to the Chapter 70 funds was essentially swapped from the school budget and transferred to the Overlay Account and Stabilization Fund. The end result is that the school budget will not be decreased by any amount.
“If a need arises, in order to prevent deficit spending, we will work to help them [the schools] to remain whole,” said Borg at the Dec. 7 School Committee meeting.
School Superintendent Scott Holcomb said he can appreciate the conservative approach that the town has taken. The effects of COVID-19 on local and state finances are not yet fully realized, and officials want to be prepared for the worst.
The schools are working to cover a deficit estimated in the past to be as high as $1.8 million, though this is still being examined. Part of this comes from transportation and kindergarten fees not being charged for this school year. He hopes that money from the school’s revolving accounts—transportation, athletic, and kindergarten— can be shifted to cover the deficit.
“We’re going to see if we can pick away at the deficit,” said Holcomb. “We’re still going to have a gap.”
School Committee Chair James McKenna said this decision was one of many that had, in his opinion, eroded an attempt to build cooperation between town government and the schools. He said that over the last two years, the town has had millions in Free Cash and yet none of it was provided to the schools.
“I’ve been here 20 years,” said McKenna. “Every time the town wants to take money, they do it from the schools.”
Keith Lapointe—Town Council president and representative on the School Committee—said that the budget is built based on available money, and schools are given enough to cover their needs. He added that the state, in crafting its budget, has utilized much of the reserve accounts, and this will likely lead to shortfalls in the near future.
“If next year, the state cuts $2 million [to Chapter 70], do we cut the schools? No,” said Lapointe, adding that Free Cash would be used if needed to ensure the schools had what is needed.
The council president said that a number of capital projects for the schools are moving forward, including replacing the roof at Community School, as well as the track and bleachers at the high school. He said that it’s about building a budget that maximizes services to the students, though McKenna said “the evidence directs me to a different conclusion.”