EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 5, 2013

Contracts, insurance woes reflected in budget

Schools leave budget number out of town manager report

By Dustin Luca

---- — ANDOVER — The town manager is calling for the school department and the other town departments to receive 3.3-percent increases in next year’s budget, putting him at odds with school department leadership.

Town Manager Reginald “Buzz” Stapczynski revealed his fiscal year 2014 budget to the Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee yesterday. In protest of Stapczynski’s recommendation for the school department, school leaders did not supply a school budget figure they would support.

On page 128 of Stapczynski’s budget report, the school department listed the fiscal 2014 school budget recommendation as “See narrative below.” The page, written by the department, then says “the School Committee and superintendent are not providing the FY14 budget number to the town manager,” and then summarizes why:

1) after years of the current process being an effective budget-design process, the recent economic downturn “necessitates a new approach” to forming a budget;

2) recent tri-board budget discussions have focused on both capital projects and collective bargaining obligations, whereas Stapczynski’s current budget parameters “do not reflect that discussion;” and

3) the school budget for the coming year includes a 3.8-percent reduction in expenses over last year, while including a 3.32-percent increase in contractual obligations based on what’s provided by Stapczynski’s recommendation when an overall 3.65-percent increase is needed to cover contract costs.

That makes it “impossible in FY14 to (a) maintain level services and (b) meet compliance regulations and (c) make specific and sustainable investments in our clearly defined Strategic Plan,” the narrative says.

At Monday’s budget presentation, Stapczynski said that contracts and health-insurance costs are the biggest drain on his side of the budget, just as they are for the school department. From one year to the next, both the town and school departments’ budgets provide for “level funding and level services, at best,” he said.

“We really are limited because most of that money is going to salaries,” Stapczynski said. “Most of that 3.3 [percent] is for compensation increases and retroactive increases we had to account for. The budgets for both the town and the schools, I’m allocating 3.32 percent for both of those.”

The budget report also reflects a 4-percent insurance spending increase from last year to the coming year. An assessment of health-insurance costs for retired teachers is seeing a 14-percent increase as well.

Toward the end of the meeting, the two boards asked School Committee Chairwoman Paula Colby-Clements and Superintendent Marinel McGrath, who were both in the audience, to sit with them and discuss their portion of the budget.

“We actually do have a budget, and in that budget, we do know exactly what costs are for level services from FY13 to FY14,” McGrath said. “We know what that amount is if we add in what our compliance and enrollment costs would be for FY14, and we know what our budget would be if we were in fact to invest in our strategic plan.”

“While [initial allocations from Stapczynski] give all the town departments level services budgets, the schools would have to make cuts,” Colby-Clements said. “We couldn’t sustain level services because of the collective bargaining obligations alone. The obligations that we agreed to, that we put forth, aren’t met by the allocation of the town manager.”

“Because we’re the largest employer [among town departments], there are a lot more pressures on the schools — salary pressures, compliance pressures,” added Colby-Clements.

Neither McGrath nor Colby-Clements gave the boards a budget number they were working with, though they said a deficit gap exists between their number and what Stapczynski is recommending.

That led Finance Committee member Greg Serrao to tell the boards and school officials to foster transparency.

“We always work better as human beings in teams when there’s trust. Trust comes from transparency,” he said. “If there’s a gap, we should know what it is, and then work together to try to solve the gap.”