Monday, December 06, 2021

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BOE Won’t Likely Cut Staff, Despite Budget Cut

By Jarret Liotta

The Board of Education (BOE) made it generally clear tonight that it would not cut staff in response to the 1% school budget cut the Board of Finance (BOF) made on Wednesday.

The BOF took $1,327,000 out of the school’s proposed $123.3 million operating budget for 2020-21, citing a need to be frugal and keep reserves intact in a time of uncertainty.

Superintendent of Schools David Abbey and his staff, in turn, came back to the BOE with a suggestion that undetermined staff cuts could shoulder a portion of that figure.

“I would like to avoid cutting any personnel,” said BOE member Karen Kleine, who had agreement from most other members on that point.

“We’re facing a $1.3-million cut … so we have to look at all of our accounts,” said Elio Longo, school CFO.

“At this point in our thinking we have a $177,000 gap to make up, assuming that the board would approve, or will approve, the reductions we are suggesting,” Abbey said.

Those included $100,000 taken from the staff turnover account, $100,000 from the carryover account, and $150,000 out of anticipated savings in the electricity account.

“The remaining $177,000 would come out of, at this point, personnel accounts,” Abbey said, for a total of $527,000.

“Our thinking is out of the box, but maybe out of bounds,” Abbey said, promising to come back to the BOE’s April 13 meeting with new suggestions that would avoid any personnel cuts.

The BOF is directly suggesting that the other $800,000 be reduced in anticipated health care costs to the amount of $550,000, and an anticipated reduction of 30%, or $250,000, in the cost of facility upgrade projects stemming from the oft-discussed Antinozzi facilities report.

“Hopefully when we go out to bid we will realize those savings,” Savin said, though Longo said it was more likely the number would be around 20 percent.

Either way, Savin said the BOF pledged to cover any overages, as it likewise said it would “backfill” the healthcare costs if they weren’t met.

Insurance costs are still a question, as a scheduled switch in the insurance carrier was delayed until October due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Several BOE members expressed a need to keep the facility costs separate from the school operating costs, and stated that the way they presented their budget made it clear they should be so.

“We should keep those three budgets separate and distinct,” said BOE member Vik Muktavaram, referring to general operating, the first-year of Antinozzi Report repairs, and general school facility and maintenance costs.

While on Feb. 10 it unanimously approved a $123,263,487 proposed budget, representing a 4.24% increase, the BOE emphasized that more than $3.1million made up a 50% increase in facilities and maintenance over the current year.

“That was the reason why we said let’s keep them separate,” Muktavaram said, noting the board would lose credibility if its starts cutting staff—or any potentially any operating expenses—in order to fund facility needs.

“If we have a concern … we should raise that concern,” he said. “We should ask for restoration (but) we should keep those three budgets… separate and distinct.”

“The whole point of this is to get ahead on the maintenance and to not keep deferring it and funneling that money elsewhere,” BOE member Lee Goldstein said.

“I don’t want to see a fluidity between facilities and operating,” she said. “That’s exactly what we’ve worked so hard not to do this year.”

“I agree,” said BOE member Youn Su Chao. “Let’s kind of keep those budgets separate.”

“I agree with Karen and Jeannie (Smith) and Elaine Whitney, who said they do not want to dig deeper into instruction,” Savin said, noting their only alternative may be to seek a restoration from the Representative Town Meeting.

“If we are denied that restoration, I would reconsider this discussion (but) I think it makes sense to maintain these buckets, at least for now,” she said.

Whitney said she is “hoping we can avoid asking for a restoration, but that can be an alternative.”

“We’ll have a tough choice on the 13th,” she said.

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