The preliminary school budget for 2012-13 tells the story of unfunded mandates and new challenges for Andover.

A small amount of money is included to bus five homeless Andover children from shelters to school, and to hire someone to help address drug and alcohol issues in the high school population. The superintendent's budget has a deficit of $867,584, which includes $772,481 in unfunded mandates previously paid for education grants that end this year. The budget also includes a 2-percent increase for teachers, contingent on the high school schedule changing.

School administrators presented the preliminary fiscal 2013-14 school budget last Thursday, March 1. This year's $66.3 million budget request reflects a 4.7 percent increase over last year.

The increase is driven mostly by step, track and longevity salary increases for school employees, according to the superintendent.

Town Manager Buzz Stapczynski has recommended a 3.1 percent increase, which reflects a $2.l million increase over last year, to $65.4 million.

DEFICIT DRIVEN BY UNFUNDED MANDATES

The $772,481 in unfunded mandates was previously paid for by "one-time money. It will be gone as of June 30," said Superintendent Marinel McGrath. "Those are positions that we still need to have for our students that we don't at this point have in the budget."

McGrath's initial recommendation was nearly $3 million more than last year's appropriated budget, which included the money needed to cover the expired mandates. Currently, the department intends to ask for the town to provide extra money to cover the education mandates instead of the school department alone absorbing the deficit by cutting, according to Paul Szymanski, assistant superintendent for Finance and Administration.

If the town covers the cost of the expired grants, the schools will face a $95,103 deficit.

SCHOOLS ADD HOMELESS TRANSPORT, RESOURCE OFFICER

Two new items appearing in the budget this year are a $25,000 increase to the town's transportation budget to accommodate homeless Andover students who will be driven to Andover schools. As of the end of September, there were five students in need of transportation.

"For the first time in Andover, we have a number of homeless students who have been displaced from Andover," said McGrath.

The hiring of a resource officer to combat risky behavior at the high school is also included in this year's budget, according to McGrath.

"We do have some issues and problems at our high school with respect to drugs and alcohol," said McGrath. "It is our feeling that, in a school of 1,800 students, our assistant principals and principals and our program advisors and our teachers, we all need that additional resource and community partnership with our police department."

The hiring of the school resource officer, identified as building security in McGrath's preliminary budget, will cost $36,057.

BUDGET ASSUMES NEW AHS SCHEDULE

A 2 percent cost-of-living adjustment for teachers with an overall pricetag of $860,993 is included in the preliminary budget, assuming there is a change to the teachers' work schedule at Andover High School.

"The budget that was presented tonight does take into account, on the high school schedule, some change yet to be determined through the negotiating process," said Dennis Forgue, School Committee member. "It does not fund the current high school schedule and the 2 percent COLA for next year."

Recently, a team of school administrators and teachers have been reviewing options for a new schedule model at Andover High School, a process that has been a center of attention in ongoing contract talks between the Andover Education Association and School Committee.

The current high school schedule has teachers teaching three courses in one semester and two in the other. One of the School Committee's previous offers to the teachers union was, if a new schedule cannot be agreed upon, to automatically default to educators teaching three courses per semester with a guaranteed 2 percent pay increase.

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For feedback or questions on this story, email dluca@andovertownsman.com.

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