Hanson Selectman clarify school budgeting process as they take issue with budget critics
HANSON — As the town begins work on the fiscal 2017 budget, some officials have taken exception to statements made at a Nov. 18 School Committee meeting on how that budget is formulated.
Interim Town Administrator Richard LaCamera reported Tuesday, Dec. 1 that town departments are already submitting budget proposals as the process begins.
“What I’m going to do before we even get to the point where we distribute the budgets to the selectmen and the Finance Committee is to sit down with each department head and review each budget to make sure what’s being submitted is what we want to be submitted,” LaCamera said. “There will be some discussion with [selectmen] about some of their budgets.”
He estimated the budgets will be ready for presentation to selectmen and the Finance Committee by the end of January.
Selectmen Chairman Bruce Young noted that it was said at the School Committee meeting that “a couple of people made statements that the School Committee comes before the selectmen and they better make sure they get there soon to make sure the selectmen will give them enough money.”
That statement is inaccurate, according to Young.
“The selectmen really don’t have anything to do with meting out how much money the schools get,” he said.
The budget and assessment are certified by the School Committee, and the assessment then comes before the Finance Committee for a recommendation, Young said.
“I believe the selectmen and town administrator also make a recommendation on that as well, but it’s the Town Meeting that actually votes the assessment up or down,” he said. “The selectmen really have little or no power to cut the budget of the School Committee.”
He also commented on the assertion by teachers’ union representative Beth Stafford that the last successful override was followed in the next year by increased requests from other departments as the increased levy limit went into general funds.
“The only way that can really happen is if the School Committee chose to lower the assessments to the two towns,” Young said. “I realize an override is only earmarked for one year, but unless the purpose of that override somehow goes away … there isn’t leverage in the other departments to fill that gap.”
LaCamera also stressed that both towns must agree on a school budget to adopt it. He reported that he had met during the day on Tuesday with Whitman Town Administrator Frank Lynam regarding the regional school budget, among other issues.
“The concern in both towns is [that] we have only a limited amount of funds available to spend so, if you’re asking for a million dollars or something, the towns can afford that kind of money,” LaCamera said. “What concerns me is we don’t seem to be part of the process.”
Hanson’s Finance Committee has appointed a liaison to the School Committee, but LaCamera said he and a representative from the Board of Selectmen should also attend budget meetings.
“I think the communication between the School Committee and the towns needs to be worked on,” he said.
Selectmen also discussed town and school department capital improvement plans.
LaCamera and Capital Improvement Committee Chairman John Norton have agreed to “wipe the plan clean” and start over, taking off project proposals on the list that have not been addressed — and may not need to be — after five years. LaCamera has also informed department heads that he will be reviewing submittals, and seeking selectmen’s input, before they are advanced to the Capital Improvement Committee.
He suggested a similar review be conducted regarding the schools’ capital improvement matrix.
“In fiscal 2016 there’s $5 [million] to $6 million that has potentially not been addressed and … somebody needs to tell the board why these things are on the list,” LaCamera said. “If it’s a priority that needs to be addressed, that’s OK, but to say that we’re going to fund $5 million in one year is impossible.”
Many project numbers are estimated pending an engineering review.
In other business, the board amended and approved language for a new posting for the Town Administrator’s job and revisions to the contract under which the new administrator will be hired.
Young also reported periods of rain during the past week have pushed the completion date for the Indian Head roof project to Dec. 6.