Ponds and roadways won't be the only thing freezing in Andover this winter. On Thursday, Dec. 18, David Keniston, business administrator for the Andover schools, announced what he calls a district-wide hiring and spending freeze. Selectmen and the town manager discussed doing the same at the selectmen's Dec. 15 meeting, and will continue the discussion at the board's Jan. 5 meeting.

The town has maintained an unofficial "frost" on hiring since August 2007, said Town Manager Buzz Stapczynski, only refilling vacancies that are "absolutely essential."

"For the most part, we're really trying not to hire anyone, with the exception of public safety personnel," said Ted Teichert, selectmen chairman.

For the schools, exceptions will be made in the freeze for personnel or purchases that are essential for students' health and safety, or for delivery of instruction in classrooms, said Keniston. The freeze is in place indefinitely.

"We're trying to have an action plan for whatever will come in January with additional 9C [state] cuts. No one seems to have a good handle on what that may be, but we want to be prepared now," he said. "We're going to have cuts we haven't experienced since 2003 and 2004 ... and I'm fearful that it will be more this time."

Every purchase order and job posting will be closely scrutinized, said Keniston, and decided on a case-by-case basis. Overtime will be "seriously restricted," he said, with the exception of safety measures, such as snow removal.

For classroom supplies, "I'll be asking, 'Is there another way to deliver instruction, without the approval of this purchase order?' We may be sharing items like copy paper between schools," he said.

Stapczynski said the town side has never returned to the staffing it had before the recession that followed Sept. 11, 2001.

"My mantra is that we haven't recovered since the previous recession. We've been doing what we can to hold hiring down."

"I am down 11 positions (since the recessions of 2002 and 2003). In 2003, we had 367.1 full time equivalent positions. Today I have 356.2 full time equivalents, and we've been at that level for last few years, which includes police and fire personnel," Stapczynski said. "Every position that has come forward for refilling vacancies has come through a very, very close scrutiny by me before I bring it to the Board (of Selectmen) for confirmation. We've only filled vacancies that are absolutely essential, and even then, some with grant money or from revolving fees."

Stapczynski gave the example of a position recently replaced in the Department of Community Services. Now, the position is funded "100 percent from user fees" of DCS programs, whereas before it was paid for with tax money.

"That's the kind of pressure that we're putting on all our departments," he said.

The 2008 annual Finance Committee Report shows the Andover school department had the equivalent of 739 full-time employees in FY03 and requested 800.8 employees for the current fiscal year.

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