By a vote of six to one this week, the school committee approved the Sandwich Community School’s budget for Fiscal Year 2012 with committee member Andrea M. Killion casting the sole vote against it.
The budget calls for a projected balance of $32,057.96 with $25,000 in reserves.
In budget discussions, Ms. Killion said she was not confident that the school would be able to come close to meeting this $32,000 balance. She said she was worried that the school would not even be able to pay its bills by end of the fiscal year.
Committee member Marie A.Kangas asked whether it would be possible to return the money-generating facilities management duties to the Community School.
“It could help them out in their end numbers,” she said.
In years past, the Community School had been responsible for scheduling rooms, gymnasiums, and auditoriums in the schools for private groups and organizations that used those facilities. In exchange for overseeing the use of these facilities, the Community School retained the lease payments made by the private organizations.
School board Chairman Shaun P. Cahill said he was not sure if it was legal for a private entity such as the Community School to collect money for the lease of public properties.
Board member Robert P. Catalini pointed out that the Community School has been operating at a loss for the last three years and asked about those losses.
Community School Co-director Audrey L. Senese said the losses, which have been covered by money in the school’s revolving account, have actually decreased and said she and co-director Donna M. Burns will be looking at doing things differently this year to ensure that there is a positive balance.
“We have our work cut out for us,” said Superintendent of Schools C. Richard Canfield.
In terms of changing things at the Community School, the school committee voted to approve Dr. Canfield’s recommendation for reorganizing the Community School by posting a position for an executive director who will oversee the programming and budget.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Dr. Canfield said the two co-directors in place are good people. “But an entity cannot function well with co-chairmen or co-principals. There needs to be a clear chain of command, and it needs to be clear who is responsible,” he said.
“I expect that both co-directors will be among the applicants for this job,” he added.
He said the Community School needs to be well run and well organized and the executive director will need to be someone who can lead.
He said since coming to the district, he has had many conversations with members of the community as well as town officials. He also became aware of concerns about the vibrancy and fiscal stability of the Community School.
“I asked myself what actions can I take to ensure a bright future for the school, so that it can continue to offer valuable programming to the community,” he said.
The Community School’s budget, he said, is different from the school department’s budget in that it has ups and downs and those variables are dependent on how the programming offered plays out.
“It is an entity that requires constant attention and analysis,” he said.
While he is searching for an executive director who can lead the school, he is also seeking three volunteers from town who will serve on a newly organized board of trustees for the Community School. He is looking for people in the community with backgrounds in finance, marketing, business and education who will provide support and act as advisors to the executive director.
“The Community School has a 37-year history. It will exist if the will of the community is there to support it,” he said.
Anyone who is interested in serving on this board of trustees can send their letters of interest to the Superintendent of Schools at 365 Quaker Meetinghouse Road, East Sandwich, MA, 02537.
The Community School has been struggling financially for the past several years. In July 2008, the school had a healthy balance of $516,902 in its revolving account. But a year later, in July 2009, that balance had dropped down to just $249,368, as the school was dealt one financial blow after another.
In June 2009, at the recommendation of then-Superintendent of Schools Mary Ellen Johnson, the school committee handed the Community School a $60,000 bill for utility costs associated with running the pool, with the bill due by June 30, before the end of the 2009 fiscal year. The utility bill increased to $65,000 in Fiscal Year 2010.
That same year, the school committee voted to take over a number of revenue-generating programs such as facilities management, the summer school program and driver’s education classes from the Community School. The school committee also voted to charge the Community School lease and rent payments for use of the school grounds for its summer camp programs and the use of rooms in the school for its other programming. In the past, the Community School paid its share for these uses through in-kind services, such as paying for a custodian’s salary and buying equipment for the school department.
A bad economy only added to the school’s financial problems as enrollments in many of its programs began to fall.