By Paul Tennant
---- — NORTH ANDOVER — Last Wednesday night, the School Committee unanimously approved a budget that exceeds last year’s spending by 4.12 percent.
Town Manager Andrew Maylor indicated in November he would support increases of 3.75 percent for all departments. Asked if he expects to grapple with the school board over its budget, Maylor told The Eagle-Tribune, “In November I presented a financial forecast that provided an early estimate of funding for all departments as a guideline. My actual budget recommendation will be presented to the selectmen on Feb. 25.”
Are the School Committee and the town manager on a collision course? When voters attend the May 21 annual Town Meeting, will they get to decide who wins a battle between the manager, selectmen and possibly the Finance Committee on one side and the School Committee on the other?
Town officials interviewed expressed optimism that the $142,630 difference between what Maylor is expected to recommend and what the School Committee has already voted will be resolved before Town Meeting. For the last few years, the Board of Selectmen, School Committee and Finance Committee have been able to reach consensus on the total budget before Town Meeting.
Last year, for example, Maylor and the School Committee were $99,000 apart on the education budget during the spring. Extra aid from the state helped erase that gap and by the time the annual Town Meeting was called to order, the three principal boards of town government had reached an accord on the budget.
“I hope not,” veteran School Committee member Stanley Limpert said when asked about a possible clash between his board and the town manager. Limpert noted it’s not uncommon for school leaders and the town manager to have different numbers at this point in the budget process.
Limpert said there will be negotiation on the budget that will involve Maylor, the selectmen, the School Committee and Finance Committee.
Limpert’s colleague Brian Gross also said there will be “continuing dialogue” among town officials over the budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. Gross called the $39,863,136 spending plan that he and other committee members approved last week “educationally and fiscally responsible.”
“This is not the end of the dialogue but the beginning of the dialogue,” Gross said.
Selectman Rosemary Connelly Smedile, who has served on her board for a dozen years, said she is confident the $142,630 gap will be worked out before the annual Town Meeting.
“It’s very early in the budget season,” Smedile said. “It will all be resolved.”