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New school budget passes, $1.25 million gap can be filled with no layoffs

By Max

A number of fiscal sacrifices will need to be made to cover a million dollar deficit in the school budget, but staff and programs won’t be among them.

At its meeting on Monday, June 22, the School Committee voted unanimously to amend the previous school budget with a new figure of $41.1 million. This is approximately $1.25 million less than what had been previously voted on, and came about in response to the expected drop in State Aid and local receipts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

While a final number has not been announced, it’s expected that State Aid could be between 10 and 30 percent less than normal. The revised budget is based on the 10 percent reduction.

Superintendent Scott Holcomb said that four technology coach positions that the district has had on the back burner for months will need to wait some more. Much of the gap can be covered through $880,000 from the Proposition 2 ½ override approved in 2018, along with funds from the CARES Act. Fees for kindergarten or other services will not be increased.

We will lose some staff through natural attrition, but there will be no reduction-in-force,” said Holcomb.

Some capital projects will need to be paused at this time, but the new track at the high school and roof replacement at Community School are proceeding on schedule. The second phase of the auditorium renovations at the high school is on hold, but new sound equipment that was already received will be installed.

Any projects not undertaken yet, they would reallocate the funds,” said Business Administrator David Flynn.

The rest of the town’s operating budget was also revamped to cope with expected loss in state funds. Approximately $2.6 million was returned from various departments which will be certified as Free Cash. Town Manager Michael Borg has said that existing Free Cash can cover a 10 percent drop in State Aid, and the additional monies can help the town absorb a 20 percent reduction. Should that increase to 30 percent, cuts may need to be considered.

The school department has turned back approximately $260,000 to the town and it has been asked if these funds could be returned once things stabilize. John Simmons—the Town Council’s representative on the School Committee—said that the town will work to return the money.

I know School Committee wanted something formal,” he said.

This led to a discussion on the future, and if more reductions would be needed down the line. Committee member Ethan Hamilton said that approving a new budget with so much uncertainty could be akin to “shooting ourselves in the foot.” At this time, it is not known what extra expenses may be incurred for cleaning supplies in the fall.

I’m hesitant to vote on a budget if we have hundreds of thousands in cleaning costs,” he said.

Committee member Kathryn Hobbs was also worried about additional costs, but that other districts are in the same situation. Committee Chair James McKenna said the town may need to “pivot and move” in August.

I think the collaboration was terrific,” he said. “I would like to see more money, but I understand.”

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