School budget gap doubles due to lack of state funding

May 21, 2020 by

Published May 21, 2020

By JILLIAN STRING

NORTH READING — The school budget gap has doubled since the last budget workshop on May 4, according to School Committee Chairman Scott Buckley.

“Michael Gilleberto, the Town Administrator, had more discussions with our local politicians. We had been keeping the Chapter 70 aid at level funding for next year,” Buckley said.

“Our local rep said that keeping level (funding) would be a rosy scenario. For prudent planning, we should anticipate a 10 percent loss, and a doomsday scenario would be a 20 percent loss,” the chairman said in reference to advice State Rep. Brad Jones had given to the town.

According to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), the Chapter 70 program is the major program of state aid to public elementary and secondary schools. In addition to providing state aid to support school operations, it also establishes minimum spending requirements for each school district and minimum requirements for each municipality’s share of school costs.

For North Reading, anticipating a 10 percent loss in funding means a loss of about $800,000 for the town, Buckley noted.

At a recent Financial Planning Team meeting “there were some other revenues that were put on the table to offset this,” Buckley said. “They’re looking at potentially using Free Cash to pay for certain expenses that are typically on the budget, things like retirement, things like maybe snow and ice.”

Buckley stated that even with some of these revenue offsets, the school budget gap has still increased from the $138,000 presented by Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Operations Michael Connelly on May 4, to $280,000 on May 18.

“We’re continuing to talk about where this leaves us,” Buckley said.

Superintendent Dr. Patrick Daly expressed gratitude for all of the work being done by the team.

“It’s a difficult year. It’s a difficult number, and I do appreciate the efforts of everyone in town trying to find every possible way to not have this impact students or staff to the extent possible,” Daly said. “The cuts that we’re going to have to make won’t be easy.”

Prioritizing jobs, services

Buckley stated that the team approached financial planning from a number of viewpoints, but have agreed upon prioritizing jobs.

“What I would say is universal is prioritizing services to students and to the town, and prioritizing as many jobs as we can. I don’t think there’s any guarantee that there won’t be any cuts at all. I think that’s the reality of this,” Buckley said.

School Committee members were in agreement that the unknown is frustrating.

“The hardest thing about this whole pandemic is after two-plus months, we still don’t know what’s going to happen,” committee member Rich McGowan said. “It’s frustrating for everyone.”

The committee’s vote on the final school budget has now been pushed back to Monday, June 1 to provide extra time to balance the budget.

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