Schools to End Year $536K in the Hole, But They Have a Way to Fill It

Photo: Red ink at the School District.

They scrimped and saved, cut and did without. But skyrocketing costs f0r special education and rapid enrollment expenses will result in the Belmont School District ending the fiscal year approximately half a million in the red, according to Belmont Superintendent John Phelan.

Speaking before the Belmont School Committee on Tuesday, April 28, Phelan said despite the district coming up with nearly $400,000 in new savings this fiscal year – including cuts in overtime, not filling positions and foregoing supplies and educational material – the school district found itself with a $536,000 deficit at the end of the third quarter on March 31. 

“It would have been much higher without if not for the work of our staff [and teachers],” said School Committee Chair Laurie Slap. 

The cause for the debt is due to an explosion in costs associated with special education. With the enrollment of more than 15 students and the related expenses in transportation and out-of-district tuition added approximately $1.4 million to the school district’s budget.

And while there remains “many moving parts” to the budget – such as an unexpected enrollment of special needs students until the end of the fiscal year – the deficit should remain stable until the end of the fiscal year, according to the district’s Director of Finance, Business and Operations Anthony DiCologero.

Since the shortfall was first identified in the second quarter, the town and schools have come up with a financial solution to resolve the shortage, according to Phelan. In June, the district will request from Town Meeting a transfer from the Special Education Stabilization Fund of the entire $250,000 in the account and a $285,000 conveyance from the Warrant Committee’s Reserve Fund.

The requests will require a 2/3s vote of Town Meeting to be accepted. 

While saying she is reluctant to request the entire SpEd Stabilization Fund to the used, “this is the year to do it,” said Slap.

Slap indicated she would seek to replenish the $250,000 by asking Town Officials for a portion of any one-time funds which could be coming from the sale of town-owned property in the near future. 

“We have to be prepared for a similar event in the future,” said Slap of SpEd costs.

The Cost of Too Much: Special Town Meeting To Pay $1.35 Million Snow Removal Bill

Photo: The bill for snow removal is double the allocated amount.

It costs a lot to push aside nine feet of snow.

And the town is setting aside time at next month’s annual Town Meeting to pay the bill for removing the record snow that fell on Belmont’s thoroughfares this season.

The Special Town Meeting article – a meeting within the assembly – will take up the $1,348,000 expense incurred by the town this winter, more than double the $600,000 allocated for snow and ice removal in the fiscal 2015 budget.

“Typically, we expect 45 to 60 inches of snow, not 108 inches,” David Kale, Belmont’s Town Administrator, told the Belmont Board of Selectmen during its meeting, Tuesday, April 21. 

The $748,000 needed to bridge the funding gap exceeds the entire $400,000 general reserve account held by the Warrant Committee to resolve shortages for all of the town’s departments and the schools.

This comes at a time when the school budget is running a $500,000 shortfall in its current budget due to a spike in special education costs and higher enrollment.

The town will resolve both funding deficits with a combination of reserve accounts, the town’s free cash account and stabilization funds, according to Kale.

The snow and ice overage will be paid by using free cash and a portion of the Warrant Committee reserve fund, while the school budget shortage will be taking from the SPED fund with the balance transferred from the Warrant Committee’s fund.