SHIRLEY — Interim Superintendent Malcolm “Mac” Reid told the School Committee at its March 25 meeting that the schools can “reasonably” absorb 65 percent of the townwide deficit. But the proposed 65/35 split will work only if the shortfall is closer to $900,000 than to $1.7 million, he said.
The downsized deficit figure came out of meetings with town administrator Kyle Keady over the last couple of weeks, Reid said, and was derived via “pots” of potential cash not tagged as revenue in previous budget scenarios.
Hopefully they won’t prove as elusive as the legendary pots of leprechaun gold at the end of the rainbow. But some might.
For example, MCI prison impact funds listed in the working document Reid and Keady negotiated from (Town/School Deficit Resolution Proposal) didn’t show up in the governor’s budget this year. Sen. James Eldridge has said the funding will likely be restored, but it’s still a wild card.
Another item, health insurance savings, is still a question mark, while a proposed dip into the stabilization fund may not pass muster with the Finance Committee.
Reid said numbers on the town/school worksheet translate to a deficit split the school can live with, but not if the bottom line is a million-dollar-plus shortfall. The deal also hinges on conditions he submitted in a March 20 memo to the Budget Committee, he said.
The “if” list Reid read through Tuesday night includes these (summarized) caveats.
* The town will come up with revenue to bridge the gap if cuts fall short of the deficit figure the town/school deficit split is based on. But the town will benefit proportionally from any new revenue — such as stimulus funds — after the deficit gap is closed.
* The schools get all of the Chapter 70 state education aid.
* This is a one-time deal that won’t set a precedent.
* Selectmen agree the schools won’t share in any future town revenue shortfalls.
* If the School Department falls short, it won’t ask the town for more money.
* Selectmen agree to transfer $62,000 from the health insurance appropriation line to cover a “make whole” offer the schools would make to teachers in return for upping their insurance costs.
* Shared with the town at 90/10 for individual plans and 80/20 for families, the new deal would be 75/25, matching the percentage split other town employees receive. Over time and with attrition, the “make whole” provision would cost less as new teachers would be hired with the new split in place and without the cash incentive.
* School business manager Evan Katz said the trade-off the schools hope to offer during contract negotiations is similar to a buy-out option the town gave its employees. Those who could get coverage under a spouse’s plan got a cash incentive to do so. Despite the seed money, the plan cuts costs in the long run.
* The list of conditions must be accepted as a package, not dissected like a menu.
With three of its five members present Tuesday night, the committee unanimously approved the budget deficit proposal as presented.
Next stop: The Budget Committee.