This letter is in response to an article titled “Deveau: Support for Reformed Budget Group Unlikely” in the Shirley Oracle on Friday September 4, where Selectmen Chairman Deveau states that he would not support the formation of the Budget Committee (BC) for the FY 2011 budget process. Mr. Deveau highlights precisely the reasons why the BC should continue.
It was clear that the budget process from the 2008 Town Meeting that lasted for seven days did not work. If the BC is not reformed, we are heading down that same path. The goal of the BC last year was to present a balanced budget for Town Meeting. The BC succeeded in doing so and therefore was not a failure. The outcome may not have been exactly what Mr. Deveau had hoped for, but the smile and sense of relief he showed when the committee came to the agreement last year were not the emotions of a failed process.
The BC provided the Finance Committee (FC), the School Committee (SC) and the Board of Selectmen (BOS) the opportunity to exchange accurate information, so informed decisions could be made about the budget. The expanded communication between the three participating groups was essential to the process. Since the BC last met, either Mr. Deveau or another person in the town offices instructed Mr. Keady, the town administrator, to end communications with the School Department. This barrier is divisive and prohibits the town of Shirley from functioning efficiently. Moreover, this barrier forces people like Mr. Deveau to make wholly or partially incorrect statements, since it is impossible to obtain accurate information if there are no open lines of communication.
Members of the central office staff for the schools were also denied access to the town of Shirley billing system by someone in the town offices. This had an immediate reduction in employee productivity despite three years of secure use by central office staff. Those with remote access to the town’s payroll and accounts payable system adhere to the security requirements set by the town’s technology department, and also follow best practices for secure computer usage. Instead of working together to become more efficient in difficult times, another barrier is raised by the town offices.
Mr. Deveau is incorrect in his statement that the teachers were “made whole” with regard to the health-insurance split with a caveat that was not mentioned at the time. Teachers were not made whole, nor were they made whole for three months. The municipal contracts end on June 30. It apparently was assumed by Mr. Deveau that the contract for the teachers also ended at that time, but their contract ended on Aug. 31. This is two months and not three months. The teachers have a 12-month contract, just like all of the other town employees that started two months later than the other town employees.
The town employees enjoyed a full 12 months of the previous health insurance cost split — the exact same time as the teachers. There was no “caveat” as Mr. Deveau stated, only beginning their new contract after the same period as the town employees. The teachers were not “made whole” as they were not given anything. They had a contract in place until Aug. 31. Legally, this contract needed to be honored, which was confirmed by the SC’s legal counsel. The BOS refused to pay the contracted percentage for the teachers for these two months, which is their responsibility since the payment of health insurance is under their control. The SC was forced to modify their budget to make these payments because legally the SC must abide by the contract that it had with the teachers.
Mr. Deveau is correct that the schools have rehired a library assistant and a new fifth-grade teacher. He is false in his assertion that the schools had a “bucket of money” that should have been on the table last spring, since the sources to fund these positions became available after the last BC meeting in April. Since the town offices were instructed not to communicate with the School Department, it would be impossible for Mr. Deveau to understand how and where these funding sources came from.
The school budget is unique in that the SC has the authority to move money around in the budget, since the school budget is a “bottom line” budget and is dynamic in nature. Mr. Deveau did not mention that the School Department will have to absorb almost $100,000 less than anticipated for the special-education circuit-breaker reimbursement, and also has an expense of $105,000 for a special education student that was not known when the budget was set in June.
Despite all of the fluctuations in the school budget, the total amount of the budget for the School Department at the time of writing this article has not changed from $7,671,903, which is the amount approved at Town Meeting. There are no buckets of money lying around in the School Department.
In denouncing the BC process, Mr. Deveau was upset that the members of the SC, in his opinion, did not adequately participate in the budget process. It was made clear to him on several occasions that the SC is responsible for providing the services outlined in the school budget. It is not the job of the SC to get involved in discussing the details of the budgets for other departments in the town. This is the responsibility of the BOS. Obviously, decisions that are made by both groups impact each other, which is why it is so important to make these decision with accurate information and in the context of the town as a whole.
It makes sense that the superintendent and the town administrator took on significant roles during the budget process because they are the ones who operate the day-to-day budgets. I don’t know why Mr. Deveau would single out the role of the superintendent and the SC in the process, when the same could be said for the role town administrator and the BOS.
The BC was sworn in and had voted to equally split specific funds (up to $200,000), should these funds come into the town. Mr. Deveau does not have final say over what happens to this money, as he is only one member of the BOS, one of three groups that make up the BC.
This point-counterpoint exercise through the media is a waste of time and energy. Let’s get the BC together to work through the challenges that we face in the town of Shirley so we can provide a unified budget for the 2010 Town Meeting.
School Committee chair