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November 14, 2012

City, schools hammering out payment agreement

Zanni wants plan in writing

METHUEN — The mayor and the superintendent of schools are nearing an agreement on service charges the city levies on the School Department every year — a list of expenses that has become a source of tension at budget time the last few years.

Mayor Stephen Zanni and Superintendent Judith Scannell have said the agreement would itemize the list of charges and provide a written basis for a part of the budget that some School Committee members have pushed back on based on what they said they were told in prior years.

“Things in the past were done verbally,” Zanni said. “This will put everything in perspective and everything will be down on paper. Once we agree to that, I will send a copy to the Council and the School Committee.”

The details have not been finalized, he said. But in a general sense, he said he wanted the agreement to include the list of charges and a set cost, either per charge or in total, that both the schools and the city can use to budget from. Once the agreement is worked out, Zanni and Scannell will sign it, and Zanni will present it to the City Council and the School Committee, which he chairs in his capacity as mayor.

“Then it becomes transparent and everybody knows what will be charged,” Zanni said.

Another possibility for the agreement could include a cap in the total amount of charges, and if the total rises above a certain predetermined figure, charges could be reduced or negotiated in some areas to fit within that cap.

City and school officials hoped a written agreement, which the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education suggested the city use, will simplify the act of passing a budget and head off potential conflict over the number and cost of charges.

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