EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

February 16, 2013

Schools: money problems need discussion now

Budget details still not public, according to officials

ANDOVER — With the budget process rolling forward and still no school numbers on public display, the School Committee is hoping town boards will meet and discuss what some describe as a broken process that must be fixed before it gets worse — except the need to meet isn't mutually felt.

The School Committee gathered yesterday for a budget development workshop, where they discussed problems they see with the town's current budget development process.

In January, School Committee and Superintendent Marinel McGrath declined to provide Town Manager Reginald "Buzz" Stapczynski budget details on deadline. The numbers were held because the schools need more information on town revenue forecasts, which Stapczynski has said technically puts them in violation of the town's charter since they didn't give their numbers when expected to.

Moving forward in the current budget process, Stapczynski allocated a 3.3 percent increase in the school's budget over last year, taking them up to around $68 million for the coming fiscal year in the projected $157 million budget. In their explanation for why they didn't provide the details, school officials said the allocation isn't enough to cover their necessary costs, and a dialog needed to take place to go over the mitigating factors driving cost increases.

Part of the problem, according to School Committee member Annie Gilbert, is how the town views level services — the idea that Andover provides its residents the same amount of services, and taxing reflective of how much that costs.

The concept has driven Stapczynski's budget numbers for this year, he has said.

But providing level services in town departments isn't as costly as it is in a school department, according to Gilbert.

All over the state, to carry level services in schools from year to year, "you're not only doing what you did last year, but you're meeting the new enrollment-driven needs in the coming year," Gilbert said. "Typically, the reality is it's a four to five percent increase every year, and that's not doing new initiatives and innovations, Chinese language programs, or anything. That's to keep the ship moving."

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