Schools Freeze Spending, Anticipate Cutting Positions Next Year
Mid-year budget report shows $500,000 shortfall this year; million-dollar shortfall possible in 2012.
Facing a $515,000 deficit for this year and a potential $1 million deficit in 2012, Danvers Public Schools announced an immediate freeze on nonessential spending. The schools may need to cut staff at the end of the year in order to balance the budget.
"We're hoping at all costs to avoid reductions in staff this year," said schools Director of Finance and Administration Richard Warren. "We're reasonably optimistic that we will end the year with a balanced budget...but we will [then] need to make more than incedental cuts."
The announcements were made in presentations of the mid-year budget report and an overview of the 2012 initial budget proposal at the School Committee's Monday night meeting.
Superintendent Lisa Dana said that she would not know what staff positions would be cut next year -- or whether positions could be consolidated or reorganized -- until after she finished meeting with principals and reviewing enrollment projections. She said that she would present her recommendations on staffing during a public hearing at the March 2 School Committee meeting. She warned that cuts are a "true possibility."
"Things are beginning to brighten, but we're not there yet," said Dana. "I'm not prepared to say where the cuts will be, but we're looking at all levels, we'll looking at all programs and how we deliver services."
Both administrators attributed the budget shortfalls to rising costs in special education and the expiration of stimulus funds that had helped carry the school system through the past two years.
The School Committee expressed dismay, but did not fault the School Department for the shortfalls. Rather, members expressed frustration with the state.
For example, spending to meet state mandates in two programs -- providing out-of-district education for special-education students whose needs cannot be met in Danvers schools, and the homeless transportation program, which provides transportation to and from shelters for homeless children attending Danvers schools -- represent 95% of the $515,000 shortfall.
Fluctuating enrollment in both programs necessitated additional funds to be spent in these programs after this year's budget had been set.
For next year, staff position cuts are expected because of added costs associated with new contracts for teachers and school nurses, increased projected enrollments, and retirements.
"We're drowning in the towns, we're not getting the funding we need," said School Committee member Jean McCartin. "As far as I'm concerned, we get no help."
But the School Committee hopes to recruit local legislators for help. Warren anticipated that the $515,000 gap could be mostly bridged by winning Town Meeting approval to use money from the Education Stabilization Fund, reducing non-salary employees, and applying for additional, available stimulus funds.
That would leave only the approximately $61,000 in costs for the Homeless Transportation program, and Warren hoped legislators would help the town (one of only a few in Massachusetts with the program) fill that remaining gap.