EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

July 31, 2013

Schools look to cut $2M before students return

Goal: Adjust budget without losing teachers, student services

By Shawn Regan

---- — HAVERHILL — Call it the summer of spending cuts.

School Superintendent James Scully said his goal is to cut $2 million from the $90 million school budget by the time students return to classes in September.

Some of the reductions will be used to offset $500,000 the city plans to take back as part of a deal in which the city covered a $1.3 million school budget hole for the fiscal year that ended July 1.

The rest is what Scully said is necessary to make sure the schools don’t bust their budget again next year.

Last year’s deficit was primarily the result of 18 special needs students who moved to Haverhill during the school year, including one who cost the district $329,000 in a seven-month period, Scully said. The total special education overrun last year was more than $2 million, but Scully said he reduced the deficit by freezing non-essential spending part-way through the school year.

The superintendent said a repeat of the same scenario is possible next year.

”I’m not going to be comfortable until we reduce the budget by about $2 million,” Scully told the School Committee recently.

He said he hopes to reduce spending without cutting teachers or administrators or impacting student performance. As many a six non-teaching positions, including nurses, custodians and secretaries, could be eliminated, he said.

The superintendent’s preliminary plan relies on eliminating several teacher aide positions; reducing the tutoring rate from $30 per hour to $15; consolidating teaching assignments; renegotiating equipment leases; and delaying a number of technology upgrades, equipment purchases and maintenance projects.

”Basically, it’s a reorganization of how we have been doing things,” he told the School Committee. “It’s not going to be easy, but we’re not planning to cut teachers or student services.”

Mayor James Fiorentini said he was pleased to see Scully acting this early in the fiscal year to head off potential problems. But Fiorentini said it’s disconcerting to hear about a potential $2 million budget shortfall this soon after the school budget was passed.

”The school shortfall we just fixed was a huge problem, but we had the money in reserve to take care of it,” the mayor said. “So it made it look like much less of a problem that it actually was. But it can’t happen again.”

Fiorentini said other city department heads are resentful the city covered the school shortfall.

”They have to live within their budgets, and if they don’t there are consequences,” the mayor said of his department heads. “They have been cutting and doing without for many years and then they saw much of those savings given to the schools. It’s caused problems.”

In a deal reached just prior to the end of the fiscal year, the mayor and City Council agreed to cover the $1.3 million school shortfall with money reserved for emergencies and other unexpected expenses, with the schools having to give $500,000 back in the new fiscal year.

The agreement also requires Scully to provide detailed budget updates on a monthly basis to the mayor and council.