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HARVARD — So far it’s smooth sailing, financially speaking, for the Harvard School Department as it navigates through Fiscal Year 2012 with an eye towards mapping out a Fiscal Year 2013 budget.

At its Oct. 11 meeting, Finance Director Lorraine Leonard said there’s been nothing that’s “burned” the $11.4 million omnibus school budget for Fiscal Year 2012, now three and a half months into the present fiscal year.

Rather, as of Oct. 7, there appears there was a $314,711 “surplus.” But don’t get too excited, said interim School Superintendent Joseph Connelly. “There are a lot of possibilities out there.”

One item on the radar is $23,000 worth of repairs to the system controls for the heating system at The Bromfield School, which would yield energy savings. It’s a budget in flux.

“What you’re seeing tonight can be very quickly used up,” warned Connelly.

A $240,000 “surplus” has been identified in Special Education expenses, and a $77,757 surplus in Special Education personnel.

Nearly $196,000 in savings was realized with a downtick in the number of students requiring out of district placements atop of a boost in the Circuit Breaker reimbursements from the state for Special Education services. Budgeted at a 40-percent reimbursement by Harvard officials, instead 65-percent of the SPED costs were reimbursed.

Other ‘savings’ came via tow SPED retirements and two resignations, which, along with a decreased need for some services, an additional $96,400 was saved. There was also a $44,400 saved when only two of three SPED students ended up enrolling in the CASE collaborative SPED program. Another $10,000 savings was realized with the replacement of a preschool teacher with a new hire at a lower rate.

At the Bromfield School, there’s $42,000 in savings realized due to resignations in the Guidance Department and $13,000 in savings due to a retirement and a maternity leave.

At Hildreth Elementary School, there have been some cost upticks. There has been a $53,000 increase in the teacher salary line due to a resignation, two maternity leaves and the reassignment of a teacher, $3,500 was added for a reading aide and $13,700 added towards the salary for the newly hired library/media technology specialist.

Connelly warned that the figures were good “for this minute only…Blink and it could be gone.”

“Don’t blink,” joked School Committee member Piali De.

“I haven’t moved. Does that count?” answered School Committee Chairman Keith Cheveralls.

Connelly said of the Fiscal Year 2012 start, “This is certainly a good first step and it’s an early step.”

Cheveralls praised Connelly for “managing everyone’s expectations” and providing ongoing “complete transparency” but noted that such surpluses can “vaporize” with changed conditions. Thanks to monthly updates, Cheveralls said the committee was poised to “adjust very quickly” if the worm turns.

Cheveralls credited ‘conservative’ budget building. The word sparked De to respond, “I don’t want us to think that these surpluses are showing up because we’ve been ‘conservative.”

De noted that the Circuit Breaker boost. “Thank you’ to the state of Massachusetts. I don’t want people to think we’re being ‘conservative’ and creating a slush fund.”

Cheveralls explained he meant conservative insofar as it’s a “basic credo we’ve tried to adopt in town” on building budgets. “We were conservative from the beginning. We have always been open and honest with the data.”

Lucky ’13

The financial model is in the works for Fiscal Year 2013. The School Committee reviewed where the schools fit in this year’s budgeting timeline.

Preliminary budgets are submitted to the Town Administrator’s office for review by Oct. 21. Town wide, department budgets are due by Nov. 1, except for the school budget due to its sheer size. “Draft 1” school budget will be before the School Committee for review on Nov. 28 before it’s delivered to the Finance Committee on Nov. 30.

Ultimately the School Committee aims to vote its proposed Fiscal Year 2013 budget on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, 2012 so that a budget hearing can be held and the budget blue print advances to Annual Town Meeting on April 28.

In the meantime, the School Committee Budget Subcommittee – Cheveralls and De – met with Connelly and Leonard. “I think Joe just knocked our socks off on how he built budgets and will introduce that into Harvard this year… It is truly impressive.”

Connelly’s school budget building experience is counted in decades. He said as an aside, “When I first started this, years ago, it [budget planning] was three months of the year. Now it’s ten months of the year.”

Connelly said the marching orders have been communicated – prepare a level service budget “which gives us the information we need to move in.” The FY 2013 directive to budget heads from the Finance Committee is to “identify our needs and costs to maintain a ‘level’ level of service.”

Over the next two weeks, Connelly and Leonard will crunch numbers with the two school principals, the SPED and Technology directors, and review the needs of the central office. Connelly said he’s asking budget holders to help identify the “total compensation” which covers costs and services, including grants where appropriate as well as omnibus sources. “I think it’s beneficial to have every employee’s total compensation package clearly bundled in one part of the budget,” said Connelly.

Connelly said he’s “working diligently” on the enrollment projections for next year which will help drive the budget forecast. Connelly was expected to share that information with his central administration team within days, and to firm up capital needs for the district.

Connelly said he’s provided his main administrators with his own tool to reverse build their budget, starting with salaries which are more often than not “linked to contracts” and so those figures are easily ascertainable. The skeleton sketches were to be gathered this week and reviewed with each budget holder before the draft school budget is compiled.

There’s one ‘glitch in this time line,” Connelly said. And that’s to factor in the cost of the 5-year technology plan which is currently under development. The technology plan is due in December which could then skew the Draft 1 school budget. That caveat will be noted for the Finance Committee.

The School Committee will have an initial sit down with the Finance Committee on Nov. 2 at Town Hall.

De was excited with the new budget building tool being used by the budget holders. “We’re truly doing ‘zero based budgeting’… You can build it up but it says what it says. We’re not guessing anymore.”

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