School board floats budget contingency plan

With late hires being made the last three years — and the current 2017-18 budget tracking toward a $1.2-million deficit, the school district is considering holding a little money in its back pocket for unforeseen expenses.

Superintendent Karen Baldwin raised the idea after Board of Education Secretary Margaret Stamatis asked whether budgeting for unforeseen circumstances — such as special education costs or out-of-budget hiring — was something the board could consider.

“There is legislation allowed for what’s called a one-time carryover account,” said Baldwin.

The rule allows the board to take surplus funds left over from the year’s budget, she explained, and set up an account with the town to use as a sort of rainy day fund. The account may only ever total 1% of that year’s budget, even if the money is carried forward into another surplus year.

“It could be used for sort of the same purposes that we’re experiencing right now in 2017-18,” said Baldwin, alluding to the budget’s approaching deficit.

She added that she’d raised the idea in 2015, and that the account would be earmarked only for education spending.

“That’s the only way that boards of ed can legally have access to surplus dollars,” Baldwin said.

Setting up such an account would require a plan with the Board of Finance, she said.

Though the account wouldn’t be allowed to accumulate beyond 1% of the budget by law, the amount would presumably grow a little each year, as long as the schools’ operating budget continued to climb, board member Katherine Holz pointed out.

“Do you roughly remember how much we’ve returned over the past couple of years?” asked board member James Keidel.

Baldwin said she did not.

Asked about budget surpluses returned to the town in the past, the superintendent’s office sent The Press figures of end-of-year funds dating back for the last four years.

Since 2014, the district has consistently ended with less than 1% of a year’s operating budget remaining as a surplus. The budget ending in 2015 came the closest, with .40% of the budget — $342,070 — returned to the town.

Most recently, the schools returned .10% of last year’s budget to the town — about $93,000 — after closing out the year on June 30, 2017.