Administrator Paints Bleak Budget Forecast For FY 2012
By: Diana T. Barth
Bourne School Committee members have always followed the town’s lead and its direction when it comes to fiscal matters—coming to Town Meeting with an agreed-upon budget.
But School Committee Chairman Richard A. Lavoie reminded the members of his board last night that they will have to look carefully and thoughtfully at the bleak outlook for the coming fiscal year in light of their duty to provide the best education possible to Bourne’s children.
That comment came after Town Administrator Thomas M. Guerino gave committee members a forecast of revenue numbers and delivered the bad news that the town will have to find some $1.7 million or cut that amount from expenses.
Since the state is unlikely to increase aid, and Bourne’s expenses have already been slashed to the bone, dealing with that number may mean departmental reorganization, a hiring freeze, no new positions, or as a last resort, a reduction in the workforce.
While his projections are preliminary, and will not be set in concrete until the state finalizes its budget closer to May, Mr. Guerino says he expects the figures to remain bleak. The state is now looking at between a $1.5 billion and $2 billion shortfall.
Bourne selectmen and school committee members both heard this week that the administrator is proposing that the schools and the town share the pain almost equally, with each being asked to cut between $800,000 and $900,000 from their budgets.
Those cuts would be comparable to those contemplated in 2005, when jobs were on the line.
That news hit the school committee hard. Mr. Lavoie said most budget line items are already down, he said, “leaving us with really people as our major tool of reaching that number.”
Pay raises and step increases mean an automatic increase in the bottom line and current school committee policy, recommended by the town’s auditors, requires that those monies be set aside first, before any other expenses.
Those contractual increases, on the school side, amount to more than 6 percent, Mr. Guerino said earlier this week. Setting aside public safety personnel, most of the town unions agreed, in light of the economy, to forego step increases, making for about a 1.5 percent increase.
On top of this, Ellen Varnerin, director of student and special education services, told the committee that while the special education budget is on track and in good shape, this year the municipality used $202,000 in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding that will be going away next year.
In discussing the budget, Mr. Lavoie said the committee might have to revisit health insurance costs; he said Bourne pays more in shared costs than Barnstable, a much larger school system. Mr. Guerino responded by saying that the town, which self-insures, had been exploring all of its options and, to date, had not found a less expense way to cover those costs.
In going through the preliminary numbers, which proposed a total budget of $53.9 million as compared to this year’s $54.9 million, one meeting attendee asked why Mr. Guerino was only proposing the use of $800,000 in free cash this year, as opposed to the $2.2 million used this year. Mr. Guerino responded that the town was looking ahead, not just to FY12 but to 2013. The town is trying to keep its reserves, and thus its bond rating and its ability to borrow, up and in line with its policies, he said. If housing and construction improve, and the economy picks up, the use of reserves could be revisited.
There was, however, some light in the midst of the bleak forecast. Superintendent Steven Lamarche said that, in education circles, he had been hearing a forecast that state Chapter 70 education funding may only go down about 4 percent this year, as opposed to Mr. Guerino’s numbers, which projected a 10 percent decrease.
Edward Donoghue, director of business services, said that the school department was already anticipating a tough year for FY12. All discretionary spending already has to be reviewed by the superintendent before it is made, he said. That policy was in place, he said, to reserve any possible funds for next year’s budget.
He said that in preparing next year’s school budget, he would be starting with a level-funded budget, but would also provide committee members with a level services budget and an “enhanced” budget.
While those might exceed the proposed numbers the committee heard, they would provide a starting point.
Mr. Donoghue said he would have a draft to the budget subcommittee by February 8. That subcommittee could meet with principals and others on February 15, allowing a proposed budget to go before the full school committee on March 2.
From there, the budget would be forwarded to the selectmen, before the full budget comes before Town Meeting on May 2.
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