Finance Committee Reviews Warrant Articles

Finance Committee Reviews Warrant Articles

Finance Committee Reviews Warrant Articles

The Finance Committee took a careful look at articles related to the school budget and medicaid reimbursement during Thursday’s review of the town meeting warrant. The town warrant currently has two school budget articles listed — one submitted by Town Manager James Kreidler and one submitted by the School Committee.

The article submitted by the Town Manager is written in the customary format that the town has used for years, citing clear numbers for the total net school spending and the indirect costs.  It proposes funding the school at the minimum required by the state.

The one submitted by the school committee currently has no numbers, a change that concerned the Finance Committee. “We need something to work with,” said Finance Committee Chairman Ulysse Maillet. Superintendent Salah Khelfaoui said the School Committee didn’t include figures due to the fact that most current numbers could be submitted on Town Meeting floor. Since the numbers would likely change between now and town meeting, the Department of Education committed to providing up-to-date numbers during the days just before town meeting.

When further pressed to provide a number as a placeholder, Dr. Khelfaoui said he would ask for the maximum possible number, which would include a $324,000 deficit in net school spending reported by the state. “We will be asking for that money,” he said. “We never pressed the issue, and did not want to press it. Earlier, we had no problem coming up with a budget we can fund.”

The school district is currently looking at cutting more than a dozen positions for next year in order to accommodate a budget that includes contractually obligated raises for all employees as well as contractually obligated increases in indirect costs, which include insurance and retirement funds.

School officials were recently informed of another estimated $300,000 in indirect cost raises that Dr. Khelfaoui said represent eight more positions. To date, Mr. Kreidler maintains his position that $324,000 is not an accurate assessment of the deficit. Moving forward, the School Committee is also looking to collect more than $100,000 worth of Medicaid reimbursement from fiscal years 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. The funds represent 20 percent of the total reimbursement from that time period which the school district was promised via an old agreement it had with the town.

The agreement, while never put on paper, has been honored for many years. However, in December the Town Manager learned that an outside contractor had been collecting 8 percent of the total reimbursement annually and unilaterally decided the agreement was voided. Subsequently, the funds from fiscal year 2010 and 2011 were reallocated at the December Special Town Meeting to pay for a transportation deficit .

Several members of the Finance Committee said this seemed unfair to the school and that this should not have happened. “This needs to reconciled, although I’m not sure how,” said Mr. Maillet. Finance Committee member Thomas Kane Jr. expressed concern that the agreement was changed unilaterally by Mr. Kreidler.

Mr. Maillet asked Dr. Khelfaoui and School Committee Chairman Mike Niles where the money would then come from to pay for the reimbursement as the Finance Committee has an unofficial policy that all warrant articles should say where the funds are coming from.

“I don’t think it is fair to ask me to point the direction. I have no clue where to point,” Dr. Khelfaoui said. In an a later interview he added that he does “not pretend to have knowledge” of what happens at the general government level.

Mr. Kreidler said the money would have to come out of the general government budget or the town’s stabilization fund. In an interview, he also expressed concerns, stating that it would be difficult to cut the tight general government budget further.

The budget shows some signs of regrowth in the community, restoring some employees hours and giving all general government employees — save the town manager — their first raise in over three years. He noted that many of these employees had opted to forgo their contractually obligated raises in the past for the benefit of the town.

He said taking the money from the stabilization account could also be harmful to the town, noting that it would likely affect the bond rating and hurt the town’s interest rate when the time comes to borrow money to build the new police station — ultimately affecting taxes.