Andover Townsman, Andover, MA


February 21, 2013

Schools: Budget woes need immediate discussion

With less than two weeks before the School Committee presents its budget to other town officials, the committee is still calling for those officials to take a closer look at Andover’s budget development process. Meanwhile, school budget figures remain — publicly anyway — a mystery.

Every year in the months leading up to Town Meeting, officials and departments craft their budgets for the coming fiscal year, which starts in July. To begin the process this year, Stapczynski allocated enough money to the school department to give it a 3.32 percent increase over last year. That’s a $68 million budget, with an increase of $2.2 million.

In the days leading up to his budget presentation on Feb. 1, however, the schools didn’t provide budget numbers as expected. They instead provided a single page explaining that the $68 million allocation wasn’t enough to cover their mandatory expenses. While listing several reasons for why, they added that the budget process needed to be discussed. Stapczynski has since said he believes their actions technically put them in violation of the town charter.

At a budget development workshop last Friday, Feb. 15, School Committee Chairwoman Paula Colby-Clements said the schools’ decision to not provide budget details to Town Manager Buzz Stapczynski prior to his presentation last month was not aimed at putting school money needs against the rest of the town, or even to put boards in opposition of each other.

The heart of the issue is how the town develops its budgets. Normally there are preliminary discussions on budget revenue assumptions, but this year things went differently, Colby-Clements said.

“That didn’t happen this year, and I told the chairs (of other boards involved) a few times, the School Committee really wants to be involved in that,” she said.

Work continues behind the scenes to “scrub” the school department’s budget for next year so it fits under a certain dollar amount. As that goes on, committee member Annie Gilbert said knowing how large the department’s budget deficit is — how much more they are currently set to spend, minus what the town will give them — would distract the public and officials from what she feels should really be getting attention.

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