As everyone prepares to enjoy vacation week next week, I want to provide an update on the budget development process to ensure everyone is clear on what will happen from today through the final budget being in place by this coming summer. I apologize in advance for the lengthy email, but feel it is important the details are understood as there is still much work to be done! As I have repeatedly said as we traverse these challenging financial times, we need to be steadfast in our advocating with the state for needed, long term fixes to funding, but we have to arrive at a local solution this year without a quick fix likely from Beacon Hill. That local solution is going to be very challenging.
On Wednesday evening, February 14th, the School Committee approved an FY19 Tentative Budget, which is online at www.tritonschools.org/budget (click FY19 at right menu). This budget is the high water mark, in that the final budget can be lower but cannot be higher, and represents the highest possible spending plan as outlined by the “green budget” from previous discussions. However, we do not anticipate that this high mark can be supported in the final revision of the budget. The details driving budget figures continue to be clarified and refined on a daily basis. By March 14th I anticipate that the current increased assessment to Towns will be lower than the current Tentative figure of just over $3 million. The Committee can only vote one Final budget, and has 3 more meetings set to listen, deliberate, and decide on a final budget figure. Those include another public hearing on February 28th, a formal budget deliberation on March 7th, and a final vote on March 14th, all at 7:00 PM in the High School Library.
The School Committee met last evening with town officials from all three of our member towns, who confirmed they cannot fund the budget as is without a substantial override. Support for an override is mixed, but all agree that the passage of an override will be a considerable challenge, and require a very concerted and well planned effort by parents and community members.
I want to make it clear that the School Committee is not able to determine whether an override is to be attempted. The Committee’s purview is the establishment of a spending plan, and it is the job of the Selectmen, and ultimately the residents at Town Meeting that determine if that plan is what they want, and the method for funding the plan. If you have questions about the budget, the School Committee and Administration can answer them. If you have questions about the need for, or ramifications of an override, those need to be addressed to the Boards of Selectmen.
With that said, the challenge will begin following the final vote of the School Committee on March 14th. The passage of the school budget requires the successful approval of 2 of our 3 member towns. As always, we strive to gain approval in all 3 to ensure we are united in supporting our schools. This year, with the likely addition of override votes as a further required action, we face a considerable uphill battle to even gain the required 2 approvals. With Annual Town Meetings set for April 24th in Newbury, April 30th in Rowley, and May 14th in Salisbury, and an election set for Tuesday, May 8th, we are not likely to have answers on approvals until May 8th at the earliest. If we learn that the budget is not approved, the School Committee would receive the budget back for reconsideration. That would occur within 30 days, and then be resubmitted to the member towns for approval at a second town meeting within the subsequent 45 days. If this process moves beyond July 1st (start of fiscal year) without an approved budget, the Commissioner can step in and set a 1/12th budget (1/12th of current budget, month to month until approval of new budget). This would be just as confusing, challenging, and detrimental as it sounds!
To be proactive, we will also produce a plan B at the March 14th final budget meeting to outline our thinking on how we would reduce spending should the larger figure not be supported by Annual Town Meetings and override votes. At that time, we will provide more detail than the current general projections of total staffing reductions discussed to date. Needless to say, without the final budget passing with successful overrides, the cuts would be significant. These discussions will continue in April and May to make sure we are ready to react immediately if we learn that the budget is not approved, and perhaps be ready prior to a 1/12th budget coming into play.
We are updating budget documents at the website listed above, on the News section, and through our Facebook and Twitter feeds. To note, there are two Facebook groups, including Support MA Regional Schools and Friends of Triton that have been started by private citizens and are strongly advocating for schools locally and at the state level. While we are appreciative of the advocacy, these are not official pages for the Triton School District.
As always, please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have questions. I hope you all have a relaxing vacation.