EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


June 27, 2013

Schools ask for $1.4M bailout

Mayor calls for audit of education budget

HAVERHILL — City leaders are scrambling for a way to plug a shortfall as high as $1.4 million in the school budget.

The problem has Mayor James Fiorentini calling for an outside audit of Haverhill’s school spending. The city also faces tapping money that was to be to put aside for emergencies in the coming year.

The City Council will have an emergency meeting tonight to consider Fiorentini’s plan for ending the problem.

State law requires cities and towns to set their annual operating budgets by the end of the fiscal year, which is Sunday. If the schools don’t have the money, the city must cover the shortfall, Fiorentini said.

In a letter to the School Committee, Superintendent James Scully said the shortfall could be as high as $1.4 million, most of it from cost overruns for services for students with severe learning disabilities.

As of yesterday, the mayor, who is also chairman of the School Committee, said school officials were unable to tell him exactly how much money the schools need to bridge the gap.

Fiorentini said he is “deeply disturbed” that school officials don’t know the extent of the problem this close to the end of the fiscal year.

As a result, the mayor said he plans to call for an outside audit of school finances and accounting methods at tonight’s meeting at 6 in City Hall. The School Committee is set to meet after that at 7 p.m., also in City Hall.

“We need an audit to determine if there are sufficient financial controls and sufficient reporting of the budget status,” the mayor said. “This can’t happen ever again.”

Fiorentini said he also intends to bring back a proposal the School Committee rejected in 2008 that would have merged the city and school financial departments under the direction of the city’s chief financial officer.

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