The latest on School, Town Budget cuts…

I’m passing along up to date information on where things stand with deliberations on the proposed cuts to the School and Town operating budgets for next year. As you know, at the Warrant Committee meeting on Wednesday, both the town and School Department presented a list of cuts they would be forced to make, should the town be unable to patch over an estimated $1.4m structural deficit in its budget, and unwilling to pass an operational override to raise the extra funds. You can download Superintendent Holland’s proposal for cutting School Department programs to meet the Warrant Committee’s definition of a “level service” budget by clicking here.

School Committee member Ann Rittenburg posted a rundown of the School Department’s proposed cuts to BloggingBelmont on Wednesday. She’s posted a status update to the Action for Belmont’s Future mailing list (a wonderful resource — sign up for it by clicking here). At the risk of stealing even more of Ann’s words than I already have, I’m going to post it below for those of you who want to know exactly where things are as of late Thursday.

Remember: there is a joint Warrant Committee, School Department, Board of Selectmen meeting tomorrow (Saturday) morning starting at 9:00am in the Community Room of the Chenery Middle School. We’re looking for all able bodied residents who are concerned about maintaining excellence in the schools to come to that meeting and show your support. This will be your last real opportunity to stand up before the town’s elected leaders and make your concerns about teacher cuts, the elimination of music education in the elementary schools and sharp reductions in extracurriculars heard.

We are also urging everyone to take five minutes to write an e-mail to the Selectmen at voicing your concern over proposed cuts to the Belmont Public Schools and your support for Superintendent Holland’s proposed budget and for putting a vote for an operational override, if necessary, before the town. Remember: the Selectmen are the gatekeepers who determine whether or not an override vote can be put before the voters. Without their backing, the town can’t vote to increase revenues to cover our structural budget deficit.


Update from Ann Rittenburg posted on Action for Belmont’s Future:

Here is a summary of the major developments that came out of last evening’s Warrant Committee meeting:

1.) An additional $265,145 has been added to the School Department’s bottom-line figure, but has not yet been allocated. [This means we can add back $265,145 worth of items (to be determined) from the list of reductions presented in Exhibit A from Tuesday night’s School Committee meeting, which then became Exhibit A Revised as of Wednesday.]

2.) The primary reason additional funds have been added to the School Department’s bottom-line is that the Assessors agreed to release all of the funds held in their FY05, FY06, and FY07 Overlay Reserve Accounts back into the Town of Belmont’s Revenue stream. The net effect of this is $423K worth of additional revenue for FY09 to be split between the the Town and School sides of the ledger. [Note: this is a one-time-only source of revenue: we will only have it for FY09. It will not reoccur in FY10, etc. It does nothing to reduce our structural gap, it only helps us paper over part of the gap for FY09.] (See detail below.)

3.) There is some speculation that the amount we currently have budgeted for health insurance could be reduced, thus freeing up money currently allocated to health insurance costs for allocation elsewhere in the budget. No decisions about revising our current estimates will be made until we have some additional information a few weeks from now, but we should be expecting to hear more about this as the budget process evolves. This appears to be the only potential place where any sort of significant adjustment to the budget could still happen (see detail below.)

3.) Consideration of an operating override as a means for balancing the FY09 budget has begun and will be continued on Saturday morning. The discussion that took place was a preliminary vetting of the idea and that was all. The idea is now on the table and it will be further vetted on Saturday morning.

DETAIL on items 2 and 3:
1.) Revenue Adjustment for the Town of Belmont: Net increase of $423,000.
Efforts to encourage the Assessors to release additional money held in their Overlay Reserve Accounts to the General Revenue stream were very successful. A variety of converging factors made it such that it was clear that they could comfortably release ALL of the money held in their FY05, FY06, and FY07 Overlay Accounts. Those accounts are now completely cleaned out, producing $598K of additional revenue, $175K of which went into their current (FY08) Overlay Reserve Account (part of their conditions for releasing the funds). The net effect of this was the addition of $423,000 worth of general funds, to then be split between the town side of the ledger and the school side of the ledger.

2.) Speculation about additional funds that may become available for reallocation, if we revise our estimates about health insurance costs for FY09:
We are currently budgeting our health insurance increase at 7% for FY09. A variety of factors seem to be pointing to the fact that we may be able to adjust this figure downward. We need to wait a few more weeks, so that we can get a bit more information and be in a better position to make a judgment about whether a revision may be in order — but there was a definite optimism that some of the funds currently allocated to the health insurance line could become available for allocation elsewhere in the budget.
For every 1% we decrease our current 7% estimate an additional $90K will become available for reallocation. There was specualtion that we could decrease our estimates by as much as 3% — but that was VERY speculative. For now, this speculative source of funds for reallocation is not being factored into the bottom-line.