04 May Darien School is Short $350,000 and the Finance Board Agrees to Cover Deficit (CT)May 4, 2010
By: Susan ShultzSource: Darien Times
The appropriation will go to the Representative Town Meeting for final approval on Monday, May 10, the same night the RTM will vote on the town and school budgets for 2010-11.
Board of Education Chairman Kim Westcott said that the Board of Finance vote went “smoothly” as the finance board had been kept up to speed on the reasons.
Westcott said in an e-mail that the shortfall is “largely special ed driven with a shortfall in state excess cost funding (84 percen t as opposed to 100 percent) and larger-than-budgeted operating costs.”
She also told The Darien Times Wednesday morning that the Board of Finance made one important change with its vote. Where the Board of Education voted to appropriate “up to” $350,000, the Board of Finance voted to actually appropriate $350,000.
“We had talked about not to exceed that number and we still will work to keep it as low as possible and not get anywhere near that number,” she said.
Previously, Schools Superintendent Donald Fiftal said the district still has two and a half months of expenses to face.
“Some are predictable and we have a handle on it and some are wild cards,” he said.
Wild cards include some legal fees and settlements in special education, as well as the lower revenue with summer school.
“The revenue is below past levels, but it was below past levels last year and we were fine,” he said.
“Also, during vacation, Mr. Huot worked hard to identify a few errors, the posting of some bills and cleared up some of those problems. We’re left with a best projection of $250,000, maybe $300,000,” Fiftal said, referring to Dick Huot, the schools director of finance.
Fiftal said that a good amount of the deficit has been the decision of the Board of Finance to make sure a portion of federal stimulus money comes straight to the schools, in the amount of about $235,000.
He said the state has sent this federal money to towns and said it has to go to the schools, but some other towns are working around that by giving the schools the money but then taking the same amount away from the total appropriation back into the town’s general fund.
“Here in this municipality, the priority is education so they are not looking for any kind o f offset,” Fiftal said.
Murry Stegelmann, the finance board chairman, said his board chose to unanimously approve a flat amount of $350,000 because he felt using the wording “up to $350,000” was confusing. He said that the Board of Education can just not draw down what they don’t need from the total appropriation.
“The Board of Ed has suffered a cutback in reimbursement this year the same time that their special education costs skyrocketed,” he said. “Although they’ve taken numerous steps to mitigate their loss, they do have $350,000 of remaining exposure.”
RTM Moderator Karen Armour said that as far as the appropriation was concerned, “I think we have to pay it.”
“I think it is largely a result of the economic climate as reflected in the lower state contribution,” she said.
Armour said she expected the RTM to approve the appropriate.
“I would be surprised if it was not approved,” she said.