Budget process isn’t going to be easy; state aid reduced $400,000

If you think what happens at the State House does not affect the quality of life in Winthrop, take a good look at the coming year’s Town budget.

Town officials were wrestling with an almost $400,000 deficit in the budget that will start on July 1 due to the fact that state aid will be cut again by almost $500,000, with Chapter 70 aid (solely for schools) being cut for the first time this year by $296,823. In addition, unrestricted aid is being cut by an additional $204,000.

Every official knew that this coming year’s state aid would be down again, but until this week it was uncertain what, specifically, Town Manager James McKenna would propose to make up for the shortfall. The effort is going to be a delicate one, and the School Department and various town offices are likely to see a decrease in funding.

At its April 15 meeting, the School Committee voted to send the Town Manager a 2010-2011 budget totaling $16,179,105, up almost 2.5 percent over the current budget. During the meting, some members expressed concern about the line item calling for a $155,000 contingency account.

Town Council President Jeff Turco who has a seat on the School Board questioned the need for the contingency account. “If every department head had a contingency account then the town manager would have to look at closing an even larger budget gap of probably $1 million for the coming year.”

School Committee member Gus Martucci said the contingency funds are vital “We work close to the vest, and it is tough to call the budget exactly with several variables that we have to deal with,” he said.

Committee members pointed out that the School Department’s budget contains unpredictable variables, including the maintenance of buildings and fuel costs.

School Committeeman William Holden noted that the contingency figure “is one percent of the entire budget, [and] oil and gas prices could spike.”

“One student with special needs could cost almost this amount,” School Committeewoman Mary Lou Osborne noted in arguing for the contingency account.

School Superintendent Steven Jenkins noted that the contingency funds could pay for accounts that have been underfunded, including school supplies.

Other sources of budget savings could come if several senior teachers retire in the coming year. A new teacher is paid approximately $36,000, while more senior teachers make in the $60,000 range. In addition, administration is considering giving incentives to personnel who enroll in their spouse’s health insurance plans saving additional funds.

On Tuesday night, McKenna submitted a level funded school budget at $15,797,764 almost $400,000 less than the School Committee requested at its April meeting.

School administrators and elected officials are now going back to the budget to see what programs and services will have to be cut for the new budget.

“We will live by what appropriation the town council gives us,” School Committee Chairperson Pat Milano told the Transcript.

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