AYER — Acting Superintendent of Schools George Frost says the updated fiscal 2010 budget he presented to the School Committee at its June 30 meeting looked more solid than figures he’d laid out at the previous meeting — even though some items listed then as available funds have since been spent and another remaining balance has been earmarked.
Since the last update, he said, tuition from Shirley may be less than the projected $80,000. However, the tuition bill has gone out, so that revenue should come in soon, he said.
On the plus side, Frost said, some items listed as shortfalls, such as the athletic revolving fund, may go away when actual receipts come in. An add-on of $1,000 for substitute teacher pay, listed as a projected shortfall, may not be needed, and the projected special-education transportation deficit may decrease by $2,000, Frost said.
Narrowing the cost versus revenue gap further, the committee approved a line-item transfer of $57,000 in surplus funds from supplies to personnel, which was short by that amount.
Frost said he expects the final tally to show less cost, more revenue, better than he predicted a month ago.
“When we meet again Aug. 4, we’ll be in fine shape,” he said, adding that there may be $300,000 in the reserve account going into next year.
One reason, Frost said, is that special-education expenses looked “good,” this year. And although a lighting upgrade didn’t produce savings at the outset as the utility company had promised, he said bills for the last two months have been lower, so there’s still hope the investment will pay off.
There was one unpleasant surprise that could cut into the reserve funds. The vocational school bill for 2010 came in at $44,000 more than the projected figure budged by the town.
While not a school budget problem, per se, it is an educational expense, and the committee considered whether it could help solve the problem.
While Ayer does not belong to a vocational school system, the district also does not provide a high-school vocational program, so town must pay tuition and transportation to vocational schools Ayer students attend.
It is a town expense and not part of the school budget. Under the state School-Choice program, students may choose to attend another participating public school district, with tuition paid as a direct debit from the sending district’s local aid.
Bills for vocational tuition and transportation come to the school district first, Frost explained, but only to verify enrollments.
When committee members discussed the issue at their previous meeting, they authorized Frost to offer $20,000 toward solving the problem.
Since then, he said, he met with Town Accountant Lisa Gabree, who managed to find funds to shrink the $44,000 shortfall to $33,000.
“If we commit $20,000, that leaves just $13,000 for the town to come up with,” Frost said.
He added that Gabree asked if the school district could contribute more than $20,000 or cover the entire shortfall.
Based on the “good news” in the special-education budget, Frost said he’s confident the school budget can absorb more of the town’s vocational school debt — but not all of it.
Committee member Patrick Kelly concurred with Frost’s assessment that the cooperative working relationship between school and municipal administration is preserving.
“Maybe we can up our contribution,” he said.
Frost, however, was cautious about increasing the school district’s contribution.
“I’m comfortable with where we are,” he said. “But the figure I’m looking at would be less than $13,000.”
He promised to come back with a proposal at Aug. 4 meeting.