By M.E. Jones


HARVARD — The bulk of the discussion at the tri-board meeting between the Board of Selectmen and School and Finance committees centered on the school budget, which was also a central element in the override debate.

The boards have been split on (THE OVERRIDE) issue from the start. Most favor a three-level format, but the School Committee is holding out for a single request.

Complicating matters at the Jan. 27 meeting, key pieces are still missing.

At the previous tri-board meeting, the School Committee was asked to explain where and how it would spend income from the Devens contract, which will pump some $10,000 per student into the district plus additional money for staff and services. Plans call for some of that money to beef up the learning center at The Bromfield School and add an education aid to the staff.

The tri-board also asked for the details of a government special education grant that awards $240,000 annually to the school district.

The Devens money was accounted for, but the grant raised concerns. That money isn’t part of the budget, per se, and hasn’t been included in the big picture.

Finance Committee member Cynthia Russo said it should be. The additional data is important, she said, and she couldn’t see a problem with providing it.

School Committee Chairman Willie Wickman said she doesn’t understand what more Russo wants, beyond what had already been provided.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Thomas Jefferson offered perspective and some detail.

“In a broad sense, we use it for adaptive technology development,” he said, noting items such as in-class microphones for students with auditory issues and special equipment for therapists who work with disabled students in classroom settings. He said the grant couldn’t be considered a revenue stream since awarded amounts fluctuate and there’s no guarantee the schools will get it from one year to the next.

Next year’s application hasn’t even been written yet, he said.

The two sides agreed the grant shouldn’t be a line item, but would appear, categorized and itemized, at the end of the budget book.

Another gap is the “what if” lists the tri-board asked the School Committee to come up with, envisioning $600,000 worth of cuts in three increments. The committee didn’t do it.

Ricci asked more than once if tri-board members wanted to weigh in on the schools’ budget request as is and if they supported it.

There were no takers on that question, but there was more discussion about an override strategy. Eight members favored a tiered override, and seven wanted a single request on the warrant.