By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — Superintendent James Scully is developing a list of spending cuts to offset $500,000 the city took back from the schools last week as part of a deal to plug a $1.35 million school budget hole for the fiscal year that ended June 30.
Scully said the deficit was primarily the result of 18 special needs students who moved to Haverhill since August, including one whom has cost the district $329,000 since October. He said the total special education overrun was more than $2 million, but that he reduced the deficit by freezing non-essential spending months ago.
Mayor James Fiorentini and the City Council agreed to cover the shortfall with money reserved for emergencies and other unexpected expenses, but the schools have to give $500,000 back in the new fiscal year.
The agreement also requires the schools to hire an outside company to perform a management audit of school finances and accounting methods, and that the superintendent must provide detailed budget updates on a monthly basis to the mayor and council.
Fiorentini said the schools should be able to easily absorb the $500,000 cut because they will be getting more money next year than they expected from the state for special education expenses. Under the so-called “circuit breaker” law, the state reimburses cities and towns 74.5 percent of their special education costs in the following year. That means the schools will eventually get almost three-fourths of their special education overrun back, the mayor said.
Scully said he is targeting a wide variety of small cuts to recoup the $500,000.
The plan includes: not replacing several teacher aides who are retiring; reducing the tutoring rate from $30 per hour to $15; cutting several special education positions and a clerk in the central office; consolidating teaching assignments; renegotiating equipment leases; and delaying a number of maintenance projects. The district also expects to save up to $100,000 by replacing 12 retiring workers with new employees at the bottom of the pay scale, the superintendent said.
Scully said he will submit the final list of cuts to the School Committee for its approval at an upcoming meeting.