Skip to content

GET BREAKING NEWS IN YOUR BROWSER. CLICK HERE TO TURN ON NOTIFICATIONS.

X

PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

HARVARD — After a lengthy discussion about Devens, talk between the Board of Selectmen and the School Committee turned to the issue of sharing the budget deficit.

Then things got lively.

The March 26 discussion centered on how to split the shortfall in the budget between the school district and the municipal side, and whether numbers the two boards had agreed on at a previous tri-board meeting were flexible.

The School Committee clearly believed they were. The selectmen did not.

From the School Committee’s slant, the deal was that if the governor’s “9C” cuts came in lower than the $353,000 expected, then the $249,000 in cuts made by the schools (versus $105,000 that the town agreed to absorb) would be lower, too.

Now, the school board wanted to know if selectmen would stick to that plan. The new number they came up with was $161,000.

“We wrestled with this,” said School Committee member Willie Wickman. “Will you honor that agreement?”

“No,” Selectmen Chairman Leo Blair said, because, in his view, no such agreement had been made.

Blair said his recollection is different. In his take, the School Committee had asked to reserve the right to renegotiate, but no deal was made to automatically reduce its share of the deficit based on a new number.

Instead, if the state cut was less than anticipated, the committee could come back to the table with a request to lower the schools’ slice of the deficit, he said.

But Wickman and other members indicated they’d already made plans to use recouped money — over $80,000 worth — to enhance technology by purchasing Smart Boards for classrooms.

That notion raised a few eyebrows on the other side of the table.

“You want to use money we don’t know we have?” asked Selectman Ron Ricci.

Town administrator Tim Bragan seemed surprised, too. He questioned the committee’s decision to add an expense that wasn’t in its original budget, while the town had cut back.

Blair was adamant. Cuts on the town side had cost people their jobs. “These are people!” he thundered. “We can’t get ours back!”

School Chairman Stuart Sklar said that based on talks with Bragan, who had predicted more cuts coming, he’d planned to revisit the issue at the committee’s meeting next Monday night. “I was going to bring it up recommend that it’s not prudent to try to recoup that money,” he said. Of course, other members might not agree, he added.

Wickman pushed the question, polling members on their recollections.

The tri-board had agreed that if state aid came in higher than expected, the added money from cuts already made would remain unspent as free cash, Blair recalled.

Selectman Tim Clark agreed that was the gist of it, while Lucy Wallace proposed looking at minutes of that meeting to get the story straight.

“The process was flawed,” Wickman persisted, adding that the school board should have waited for final figures before making cuts.

“If we had, you’d have had to lay off teachers,” Blair fired back.

As the flap heated up, so did Bragan’s usually calm demeanor.

“We knew in January exactly what the state numbers were!” Bragan said, knocking on the table with a finger for emphasis. He reminded both boards of his PowerPoint presentation on the subject, which laid out the facts and figures for all to see.

Cuts were discussed “the next day,” Bragan said, and there has been no change since.

Sklar snuffed out the heated discussion by calling for his board to adjourn.

“Let’s do this again,” Blair suggested wryly, “every two years or so.”

When the School Committee left at 10:40 p.m., selectmen still had items on their agenda.