Hope Remains To Resolve Mashpee School Budget Fiasco

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By: Elsa H. Partan
Published: 08/17/12

The Mashpee Public School District may have another shot at getting more than $336,000 from the town it was counting on for its budget this year.

Selectmen declined to approve a Town Meeting article moving the money into school district accounts last Monday, saying that if the school district still needs the money in the spring, it can write a petition for May Town Meeting. Three days later, school committee Chairman Jose L. Franco met with Town Manager Joyce M. Mason, board of selectman Chairman Michael R. Richardson, and finance committee member George R. Schmidt to discuss the consequences if the money is not transferred in October. At that meeting, Mr. Richardson agreed to put the issue on the agenda of the September 10 selectmen’s meeting.

“Eighty percent of our budget is salaries,” said Mr. Franco in a phone interview this week. “Come February, we would exhaust all the money in our regular day transportation budget. We would not be able to lay off teachers in February because we’re right in the middle of the year.”

The school district handed over $336,264 in unspent cash at the end of the fiscal year in June with the expectation that the Town of Mashpee would appropriate the cash back to the school district at October Town Meeting. That expectation came from an agreement struck between members of the school committee and the finance committee in March. The exact mechanism for getting the money back was unclear, however, and the school committee missed a deadline in July for submitting its own Town Meeting article to request the money. A Town Meeting article submitted by selectmen is now the only mechanism for getting the funds to the school in October.

At the school committee meeting Wednesday, part-time business manager Paul Funk told the school committee that his office had allowed a shortfall in the bus transportation budget going into Fiscal Year 2013 because he expected to fill the gap with the $336,000 the schools relinquished to the town in June. Without plugging that hole, the transportation budget will run dry before May Town Meeting, the committee’s next opportunity to petition for the money, he said.

“We can’t wait until May,” Mr. Funk said. “That would be catastrophic. If Town Meeting votes ‘No’ in May, I don’t know what we would do.”

Mr. Funk pointed out that $71,200 in Chapter 70 state aid relating to schools was granted to the Town of Mashpee at the end of the fiscal year, which the town opted to keep, rather than passing it on to the school district.

“Under the Education Reform Act of 1993…that is their right,” he said.

He also pointed out that since Fiscal Year 2007, the school budget for supplies has been cut 35.9 percent.

“We can’t keep cutting the supply line,” he said.

School committee member Phyllis A. Sprout asked how much enrollment has dropped during that period. Superintendent Ann M. Bradshaw said that the cuts have outpaced the decline in enrollment. According to the state department of education, enrollment in Mashpee schools has declined almost 15 percent since 2005.

Ms. Bradshaw said that the school district had kept five employees on the rolls with the understanding that the town would return the cash left over at the end of the fiscal year.

“If we don’t get the money we will have to decide which way to go,” she said.

Mr. Richardson said in an e-mail message to the Enterprise that he and Ms. Mason will draft a list of questions for Mr. Funk about the state of the school budget ahead of the September 10 selectmen’s meeting.

“There would still be time to add an article to the October Town Meeting if the Selectmen agreed to do so,” he wrote.

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