YORK — The School Committee proposes fiscal year 2020 school spending that is 4.4 percent higher than the current year’s budget, after it added funds in the special education account and made a down payment on a $300,000 food service account shortfall.
Other than that, members made no changes to the budget formulated by Superintendent Lou Goscinski last December. He presented a $34.9 million budget, representing a 3.9 percent increase in spending; the committee passed a $35.1 million spending package.
On the revenue side, the committee also voted to reduce funds coming into the School Department by $50,000, by eliminating the “pay to play” policy that requires parents to pay a fee for their child to participate in sports and extra-curricular activities.
The budget now goes to the Budget Committee, which will begin its deliberations next week. The Budget Committee has the authority to raise or lower proposed spending.
The committee focused a lot of its attention on Goscinski’s proposal asking voters next May to appropriate $100,000 to create a special education reserve fund. This standalone fund would be separate from the SPED operating budget and would only be tapped if there are unexpected expenditures during the school year.
“I look at it as transparency,” he said. “Here’s money we put away, and here’s how it will be used. It will protect the district against unanticipated special education costs” such as an unexpected out of district placement of a child who moves to York after the budget has passed. He said a day program can cost between $35,000 to $60,000 per year plus transportation; and a residential placement can cost $100,000 to $200,000 a year.
To replenish the fund once its established, money could either be taken from the school district’s overall reserve account or voters could be asked to add to the fund each year via separate warrant. Goscinski said he was proposing the fund to avoid freezing the budget, which happened frequently in the past due to unanticipated SPED costs during the school year.
He received consensus from the committee that it supported such an article. To be on the safe side and to send a message to the Budget Committee that they favor the idea, committee members agreed as a precaution to add $100,000 to the SPED operating budget.
If the Budget Committee agrees to the standalone article, it can simply vote to delete that money from the SPED budget, they said. “That shows you’re committed,” said Goscinksi. Meredith Schmid said the SPED program had been in a deficit spending mode for years, and “this is an opportunity to grow the budget and stop being stuck in this constant dredge.”
Schmid and Meaghan Schoff also championed adding money to the food service budget to begin to deal with a $300,000 deficit caused over several years of overspending on food. A purchase tracking system has since been put into place, said Finance Director James Amoroso, so the situation will not reoccur. He told Schmid the school district is not paying interest on this money nor is a vendor not getting paid as a result.
Also, he said, the amount is small enough in the overall budget that it has not posed a concern to auditors. He reminded the committee the town currently enjoys an AAA rating from Standard and Poors.
In the end, the committee voted unanimously to add $66,000 to begin to pay down the deficit.
Finally, committee member Julie Eneman made an impassioned plea to her colleagues to eliminate the “pay to play” policy, which require parents to pay as much as $300 per family for children to play sports or engage in certain extra-curricular activities.
She said while she understands why it was implemented during a downturn in the economy, “I’m increasingly aware that there are situations in our own district that create disparity in student experiences.” She said some parents can’t afford the fee, thus potentially cutting their child off from the activity. There is a waiver system, but parents “would choose for their child not to participate rather than have to put out their hand once again.”
Moreover, teacher-coaches are often put in the position of having to run down parents to ask for the fee, which is unfair, she said.
Committee members supported elimination of the fee system. “I don’t see a downside,” said David Herbein.