By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — City schools have received an influx of cash to help fill a budget hole originally estimated to be close to $2 million.
City Council agreed last night to give the school district $339,000 in state and federal money at the request of Mayor James Fiorentini. The money is state education aid and federal Medicaid reimbursement funds that are generally given to the schools anyway, but the mayor said the city could have used the money anywhere it wanted. The council voted 8-0 to give the schools the money, with Councilor William Ryan absent.
The new money plus previous spending cuts have reduced the school budget deficit to about $500,000, but the mayor said he expects “painful cuts in personnel” will be needed to trim the rest. School Superintendent James Scully has said he is working on a plan for the cuts and will present it to the School Committee within the next few weeks.
The superintendent and School Committee have already made about $750,000 in spending cuts since the start of the school year, officials said.
“We’ve given them what we could,” Fiorentini said after the council approved the $339,000 last night. “The sooner they make the rest of the cuts the better.”
The school budget shortfall was identified by a private accounting firm hired after the schools ended the prior fiscal year with a shortfall of more than $1 million.
The schools hired Melanson Heath & Company, an Andover accounting firm, as a condition of the mayor and council agreeing last summer to give the schools an additional $1.35 million to plug the previous budget shortfall that school officials said was caused primarily by an unexpected overrun of about $2 million in special education spending.
In exchange for the city bailout, the School Committee also agreed to cut its budget by $500,000 and put $200,000 into a special education reserve in case that account runs over again this year. The mayor said he does not support tapping the special education reserve at this time.
The Melanson financial review concluded the shortfall is mainly the result of inadequate funding in three areas: Transportation, special education and money set aside to pay substitute teachers. Scully said the shortfall is also the result of about 200 more students enrolling at city schools this year.