Several members of the Winthrop School Committee joined Superintendent John Macero at the Town Council meeting on Tuesday night, as the school department awaited a decision on its transfer request of $208,800, which is needed to close a deficit in the line item for special needs tuition payments to out of district placements.
The request originated at the School Committee in mid-February, when Macero and Assistant Superintendent/ Pupil Personnel Director Lisa Howard first explained that the deficit occurred as a result of a change in budget planning last year, when the school department was transitioning from the administration of Interim Superintendent Dr. Joseph Lisi and newly hired Superintendent Macero.
Members of the Citizen’s Advisory Finance Committee basically agreed with that assessment in recommending the transfer be approved on Tuesday night, but also pointed out that the deficit was partly due to the fact that Dr. Lisi’s intentions of “pre-paying” FY 2012 special needs tuitions with circuit breaker funding that was received during the FY 2011 school year was never memorialized in the budget process, so that when the town government decided early in the fiscal year to allocate those funds to the town side of government, it was not clear that they had been intended for special needs funding within the school budget.
The finance advisory committee noted that the town had only appropriated about $780,000 for the sped tuition line item in FY 2012, even though previous budgets had always spent more than $1 million on special needs tuitions.
In that regard, the current deficit could easily have been foreseen. However, if the town had allowed the school department to proceed with Dr. Lisi’s plan to pre-pay most of those tuitions with an approximate $292,000 in circuit breaker money that it had from the FY 2011 school year, the current transfer request would not have been needed.
In the end, the Council seemed to indicate its willingness to consider the request, but wanted to be sure that the $208,800 request was the actual number that will be needed to meet the school department’s remaining obligation to pay special needs tuitions this year.
Councilor Nick DelVento moved that the hearing be continued until the Council’s next meeting, at which time they have requested an updated estimate of the tuition line item deficit, so the council could vote on the most accurate estimate available.