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School Committee Concerned Over “Rainy Day” Fund


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The following is a transcript from the Oct. 6, 2014 Westford School Committee meeting. For other parts of the transcript, click here. For a video recap, head to westfordcat.org

8:52 p.m. – Kathy Auth then came up saying that the School Department closed out last year with approximately $250,000.

Special Education tuition for this year had been prepaid, which will help the schools go back in the black again.

Tom Clay
Tom Clay

She hopes the schools can give back some money to the town, and noted she is a Westford taxpayer.

Then she said that the variance in budgeting is fairly similar year to year. There may be some surplus for salaries due to more experienced older students leaving and being replaced with younger students that may be able to be used with help for facilities.

Generally consultants are hired for analysis since timing is important and they work with students outside of school hours.

Transportation went pretty well last year, the special education budget had enough and the regular education saved money since there were fewer midday kindergarten busses needed than expected.

That projection has been adjusted for future years.

Auth said that prices change for heating since they are tied in with National Grid and weather patterns can vary greatly.

The actual are significantly higher than budgets, but this was known. She said that the town as excellent schools, but there is a cost, and the budget has to match it.

In terms of special education, costs did go up quite a bit. Out of district placements went up 25 percent, but this qualified the schools for relief to help Westford stay within the budget.

And she said that student needs are variable and change throughout the year.

Kohl said she is worried about a risk posture regarding spending since the “rainy day” fund known as the circuit breaker funds are being used and that there are other concerns that when added up could exceed the circuit breaker eventually, saying it was worse this year than others.

Auth said that every year she is grateful to get through the year, although this year there will be some net metering benefits and that electric bills are continuing to go down thanks to help from National Grid. The most troubling aspect is the maintenance budget since this directly impacts safety.

Olsen said he and Auth looked at fiscal hot buttons and that risks are calculated as soon as possible.

Auth then said it would be important to keep track of how much circuit breaker funds and school choice funds are drawn down.

She said that if it’s taken too late in the year, it might not impact the budget. She also noted that this year was unusual due to extraordinary relief, and Kohl said that this was part of her concern, although Auth said that prepayment of $300,000 in tuition definitely helped.

Murray then said that it was not a good idea to fix shortfalls with overages in other accounts as it would not provide a good picture of what everything costs.

She also asked a question regarding funding regarding the Simmons Account on Professional Development, Auth said she believed it wasn’t being reactivated, although it was within Clery’s purview to be used on technology for professional development.

Benoit asked about a projected 35 percent increase regarding heating costs, Auth and Olsen said there was a discussion pending with town staff relating to this, and Auth said that natural gas wasn’t supposed to be impacted as much.

Ryan asked if it’s a tradition to give back $250,000 back to the town. Auth said that often it’s because it’s unknown what exactly will be needed by the end of June and that the School Committee would need to talk about how to spend $250,000 in June.

Olsen said that the surplus helps avoid a “sawtooth effect” where employees are let go and new ones are brought on in a cycle and this has helped the town avoid significant reductions.

Harkness also said that the $250,000 return is part of the department’s integrity with the community as residents do not like committees spending just to spend.

Keele said that as a former member of the Finance Committee, a surplus is the expected standard to be given a slight surplus at the beginning of the year only to generally give it back at the end of the year barring extreme circumstances.

Ryan asked a question regarding having to pay for the use of the East Boston Camps for events, but departments billing each other is common.

Clay said there are some worrying variances in the budget, but that overall it was very well done.

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