Thursday, May 20, 2010
School officials say thank you to town with 205K gift

In a gesture of goodwill to their fellow town officials, members of the School Committee last week unanimously agreed to give $205,000 in additional state aid back to the town to help replenish its free cash reserves in the wake of town meeting.
The funds, announced by state Senator Brian Joyce shortly after the close of town meeting, had been awarded to the school department in the form of “extraordinary relief” to help address unanticipated increases in special education spending.
But after receiving a pair of reserve fund transfers totaling more than $800,000 at town meeting — including $440,000 for next year’s budget and $363,000 to cover special education costs in FY10 — committee members decided that it was best to return the favor even as they acknowledged the money could be put to good use if kept by the schools.
“There are plenty of good reasons to spend the money,” said Chairman Reuki Schutt, who rattled off a half dozen examples to emphasize the point.
Schutt said the schools also had the option of saving the extra funds, especially with future budget shortfalls expected in 2012 and beyond; however, she ultimately agreed with her colleagues that returning the funds to the town was the “right and proper thing to do” and would strengthen the school department’s credibility going forward.
“What feels good is to have been believed and to have been trusted, and I don’t want to lose that,” said Schutt, referring to what was, in her mind, a “particularly successful” town meeting for all of the town boards.
Committee member John Bonnanzio added that he “wouldn’t even consider spending the money” — however tempting it might be — because the political backlash would be “enormous” and would be felt for several years.
He also said it was extraordinary how the entire town, including members of the Finance Committee and the Board of Selectmen, rallied around the schools in their time of need.
“The town demonstrated they will help when our backs are against the wall,” he said.
Committee members Liz Salisbury and Tim Brooks also voted to return the funds, while member Cindy Thomas was absent.
“That’s a unanimous vote to say thank you to the town for believing in us and working with us,” Schutt said.