The board was left with roughly $640,000 to deal with at its June 27 meeting before the 2011-12 fiscal year closed at the end of the month. The bulk of that money, about $587,000, was from reimbursements that came in higher that anticipated, Business Manager Hugh Potter explained.
The board received roughly $274,000 more from the state in excess special education costs reimbursement. Every school district in the state is reimbursed for a portion of the money spent educating a special education student above two and a half times the cost of educating a regular education student.
If the cost to educate a regular education student is $10,000, districts are eligible for reimbursement on money spent a special education student above $25,000. Every district is reimbursed from the same pool of money, so how much money districts receive is dependent upon how many students are eligible for reimbursement any given year. Typically, school districts budget conservatively for the excess cost reimbursement.
Aside from the excess cost reimbursement, the board was also reimbursed about $313,000 from the jobs fund for money used for a retirement package, Potter explained.
The board also cut back on spending earlier this year to conserve funds in the 2011-12 budget.
“We ended up with more money because we were very frugal all year long, and we cut off spending much earlier in the year,” Potter said.
Interim Superintendent of Schools Tim James said about $85,000 was set aside to cover any unexpected bills from the 2011-12 fiscal year.
Last week, James presented the board with a list of items to purchase, many of which were in the 2011-12 budget but never bought, with the remaining $558,000.
The items on the list included laptop carts, all new lockers at Long River Middle School, lawn mowing equipment, and replacement valves for the fire system at Long River.
Board member Robert Hiscox felt given the economic situation the board had the obligation to look at giving some of the money back to the towns.
“I firmly believe some of this money should go back to the taxpayers in some way shape or form,” Hiscox said.
Hiscox’s sentiment set off a lengthy debate on whether the board should spend all the money or give some back.
“I think the board needs to look and see what are our needs,” James said.
James said he understands the economic realities, but brought up the fact that the board holds a carryover of $600,000 in its budget every year to return to the towns.
This year the board returned $500,000 from the carryover to the towns.
James said he’s seen school budgets decrease over recent years, and teaching positions were cut in the 2012-13 budget. At some point, James said, he needs to say as superintendent that the board has the statutory right to spend the money approved in its budget.
“I’m just trying to advocate wherever I can for students, teachers, professional development, whatever we can do,” James said.
Board Chair Priscilla Cretella echoed James’ sentiment.
“To me this is the budgeted money, it should go to Region 16,” Cretella said.
Cretella said if the board made an error she would agree with sending the money back to the towns. But, she said, the board didn’t know how much it was getting from the state until late June.
“This is how we get it from the state,” she said. “We have no control over this.”
Board members Sheryl Feducia and Nazih Noujaim agreed the money should be spent to purchase items that were in the 2011-12 budget but not bought due to a spending freeze.
After whittling down the list presented by James, Hiscox moved a motion to return a total of $103,000 to the towns. Only Hiscox and board member William Fredericks favored the motion, so it failed.
Ultimately, the entire $558,000 was allocated to purchase items. Any money unspent from the roughly $85,000 set aside for unexpected bills will go back to the towns.