Missed Deadline Leads To Financial Uncertainty For Mashpee Schools

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By: Geoff Spillane
Published: 08/10/12

A late project or homework assignment typically results in a deflated grade or disciplinary action for students, but, in an ironic role reversal, a missed deadline by the Mashpee School Committee may prove to be much more painful and costly—$336,264 to be exact.

The consequences of the missed deadline worsened on Monday evening, when the Mashpee Board of Selectmen decided not to issue a fix to a misstep that could delay, if not eliminate, the return of more than a third of a million dollars in unspent funds back into the school department’s budget this year.

Last spring, during a contentious debate leading to May Town Meeting, the school committee made a side deal with the Mashpee Finance Committee, agreeing to return any unused school funds for Fiscal Year 2012 to the town coffers. In turn, the finance committee agreed to support any movement made by the school committee to have the same amount of money returned to its operating budget for this upcoming school year.

According to Jose L. Franco, chairman of the school committee, the return of the funds to the schools would save five of 20 positions that were slated for elimination as a result of budget restrictions set by the town manager and approved by Town Meeting. In anticipation of receiving the money, the coming school year’s transportation budget was intentionally underfunded.

Superintendent Ann M. Bradshaw, who is entering her last year as head of the system, confirmed earlier this week that 15 teachers, paraprofessionals, administrative assistants and business office professionals had received layoff notices before the beginning of the new fiscal year that began on July 1.

While the school committee did indeed return unexpended funds of $336,264 to the town, getting the money reinstated into its budget may now be easier said than done.

Since the finance committee serves only in an advisory capacity for budget issues, a return of the unused funds to the school budget would require approval of a warrant article by Town Meeting on October 15. However, the deadline for filing articles for the October meeting came and went on July 9 without a submission from either of the parties.

Request Denied
At Monday evening’s Mashpee Board of Selectmen meeting, a request by Mr. Franco that the board sponsor an article authorizing return of the funds—the only way it could make it on the warrant after the deadline had passed—was not even considered, let alone voted upon.

Selectman Wayne E. Taylor led the board in addressing the issue, suggesting that since the school department had just last month received its fiscal year 2013 budget of nearly $19 million, that an article requesting additional funds should be submitted in February for the Special Town Meeting in May, during which budgets are traditionally presented for discussion and approval.

Mr. Taylor and Selectman John J. Cahalane also noted that the board was not a party to the agreement between the finance and school committees and did not think it appropriate to step in to remedy the situation when it was not a part of the conversation from the outset.

“I felt as if it were the right thing to do for our citizens and taxpayers. How do we know now if there is going to be a budget shortfall even before school opens? To make a case for more money when you have more than $18 million in the bank seems a bit ahead of the game. If the need arises the schools can transfer funds from one account to another to get by until May,” said Mr. Taylor, adding that the decision not to move forward with the article should in no way be viewed as a sign of friction between the board and the school committee.

Town Manager Joyce M. Mason agreed with Mr. Taylor’s assessment, saying that in May, voters will be able to see whether there will truly be a budget shortfall for the school system and whether the funds would be needed.

Without argument or debate, Mr. Franco accepted the board’s decision not to take up the matter for discussion or vote.

“I was taken aback at the board’s overwhelming reaction to deny the request, and that they claimed they were not aware of the agreement. We can make it through until May in anticipation that we will receive the funds, but we will not be able to make it through to the end of the fiscal year on June 30,” Mr. Franco said. “I have told Ms. Bradshaw to continue providing educational services without any constraints as we enter the new school year, with the goal of making Mashpee a premier school district on Cape Cod.”

The arrangement means that the school department will be approaching the school year with a spending plan that assumes funding that may or may not be approved by Town Meeting in May.

School committee member Scott P. McGee, though, said he was not surprised at the selectmen’s stance. “In fact, I’m surprised they did not say you are not getting anything at all,” he said.

Mr. Franco and Mr. McGee were the only school committee members in attendance at the meeting. Fellow committee members Joan N. Oliver, Phyllis A. Sprout, and David P. Bloomfield did not attend. Three members of the finance committee attended the meeting, including Chairman Christopher J. Avis.

In a written statement provided to the Enterprise, Ms. Bradshaw said that she was not aware that part of the agreement included the schools submitting an article. “My understanding was that the finance committee would recommend the funds being added to our budget and that the board of selectmen would support it. We will maintain the positions that were ‘saved’ and submit an article for May town meeting,” she wrote.

How It Passed Unnoticed
With so much on the line, including five livelihoods, many townspeople have been left to wonder how such a deadline could have been missed.

Notice of the article submission deadline is published on the town’s website, in the Enterprise, and is sent via e-mail to all of the town’s department heads.

“I will take full blame for it,” Mr. Franco said, attributing the blunder to a misunderstanding between both parties. “I thought the article was going to be submitted by the town,” he added.

In an e-mail to the Enterprise, Ms. Bradshaw wrote that she does not routinely get reminders about article submission deadlines.

“When we have submitted articles in the past we have called the town clerk’s office to get the due date. It is possible that a reminder was sent this time, although I don’t remember seeing one. If a reminder was sent, it might not have caught my attention because I was not aware that we were expected to submit an article. I knew what we agreed to do and we fulfilled our responsibilities as I understood them,” Ms. Bradshaw wrote.

Mr. McGee, though, disagrees with both Mr. Franco and Ms. Bradshaw.

“If Ann Bradshaw went to the town’s department head meetings, then we would not have missed the deadline. Errors like this make the school committee appear ineffective and that it is not paying attention to details,” he said.

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