EDITOR’S NOTE: The Select Board, School Committee and Finance Committee are meeting at Stony Brook School on Feb. 6 at 6 p.m. to discuss the budget for the School Department.
Just after the School Committee voted unanimously to accept a $61,241,359 budget for fiscal 2021, members began debating over what to do with a small windfall in Chapter 70 funds.
The four hour meeting on Feb. 3 evolved into a long discussion over what to do with $137,500 in unexpected state money.
Superintendent Everett V. Olsen recommended against using it to re-hire laid-off employees. “It’s my recommendation as the superintendent that we do not use it to fund personnel or services that have been cut for this year, and for next year,” he said.
Olsen said the money should be used to partly offset the additional staff members that the schools are statutorily required to hire in the current fiscal year. Olsen said he will be hiring a half-time teacher and two half-time aids “to meet needs specified in students’ individual education plans.”
“At the present time,” said Olsen, “We have over $200K in obligation for staff, mostly related to the student services area of our school system…That makes the following fiscal year even more difficult because we start off…trying to find $200K.”
But School Committee members continued to discuss what the money could be used for in anticipation of the upcoming Feb. 6 joint meeting of the Select Board, Finance Committee and School Committee.
The School Committee members sought to bring a final budget number to the pending meeting.
But the long discussion ended soon after Select Board member and Finance Committee Chair Mark Kost addressed the committee from the audience.
“Here’s what’s really important is that you have a number that the town can afford, and that you’re committed to that number,” Kost said.
Kost recommended that the committee members arrive at the meeting with a list of priorities and why they are needed. “You don’t have to get into the specifics,” he said, “because the only other option over those two, is an override.”
An override is a permanent tax hike above the limitations of Proposition 2 ⅕ and approved at Town Meeting and at the ballot box. Proposition 2 ⅕ is a state law that limits property tax increases to 2.5 percent plus new growth.
According to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education,: “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.”
UPDATE – The excerpt was changed on Feb. 6.