The Town Council approved a motion by Council President Jeffrey Turco to take $240,000 from the School Department budget for Fiscal Year 2011 and place those funds in the Council’s reserve fund.
Turco’s amendment to the town’s budget was approved by an 8-1 vote, with Councilor Nick DelVento casting the vote against the proposal. The Council later approved the town’s proposed $43 million budget for the new fiscal year that starts on July 1, 2010.
Turco said the $240,000 that has been in essence removed from the School Department budget and placed in the administrative hands of the Council came from three sources: $80,000 in savings from the impending move by the School Department from its headquarters at the E.B. Newton School to Town Hall; $130,000 in savings from salaries for the seven “senior” teachers who are retiring this year; and $30,000 in savings for utility expenditures for the new academic year (2010-11).
“None of these cuts will affect education whatsoever in the town,” said Turco, who as council president has a seat on the Winthrop School Committee. “These are thoughtful, deliberative cuts. The School Committee has twice promised to close the E.B. Newton School and that will save approximately $80,000 by getting out of there by August 31.”
Turco’s amendment, coming very late in the budget process, brought the ire of DelVento, who as chairman of the council’s finance committee, is considered the primary voice on the council for town budgetary matters.
“I didn’t hear about this [Turco’s] amendment until I got here tonight,” DelVento said. “It would have been nice to actually have debate on it and ask questions to School Department officials. There is no requirement for the superintendent of schools and School Department officials to be invited [to Tuesday’s meeting] and they weren’t invited.”
DelVento said he was expecting the Council to approve the Finance Commission’s recommendation of Town Manager James McKenna’s proposed $43 million town budget – with the now-axed $240,000 included in the School Department budget.
“Up until I got here at this meeting, that’s what I thought we were going to do,” said DelVento, who sits on the Council’s finance subcommittee with Councillors Larry Powers and Russell Sanford. “I honestly don’t know why the Council voted for this. I think the School Department needs the $240,000 for the coming school year. Their budget was tight. We had already reduced their budget by $500,000 [from $16.1 million to $15.6 million].”
But Turco stood firmly behind his amendment and defended the timing of his motion.
“We have a budget process and as part of that process, amendments are appropriate at any time,” said Turco. “The process is that until the budget is approved, anyone can make a motion for an amendment. There were two other amendments that were approved [$35,000 for the Fire Department for hiring additional personnel and a $25,000 adjustment for the Department of Public Works budget] and it was interesting that there wasn’t an argument that the other two were untimely, just this one was untimely.”