The agenda for Tuesday’s meeting of the Southbridge School Committee seems to add to the tax woes of Southbridge residents.
This analysis is being prepared on the basis of only partial information. As such, it seeks to provide questions to which we need answers in anticipation of the upcoming Town Council vote on the FY 2015 budget.
The original school budget as proposed by the Superintendent was for $26,282,197.00. The budget to be voted upon is for $25,273,485.00, a reduction of $1,008,712.00 or 3.8%.
However, item XII. B. on the agenda then adds, “The Town of Southbridge has agreed to provide $31,000 for School Choice Tuition and additional local aid in the amount of $84,000 with the expectations of total funding for FY15 in the amount of $25,388,485.00.”
Without that latter provision, the proposed school budget is an increase over the original budget proposed by the Town Manager of only $21,502.00.
That latter provision, however, is very troubling.
What does it mean to say “…with the expectations of total funding…”? Is the Town Council going to vote on a Town Budget for FY 2015 that has a school budget of $25,273,485.00 or $25,388,485.00?
Additional concern relates to the statement, “The Town of Southbridge has agreed to provide $31,000 for School Choice Tuition and additional local aid in the amount of $84,000…”
Is this total of $115,000.00 incremental to the total budget or is it a transfer from other accounts previously budgeted? If it is the former, then it is an increase in the total town budget in addition to the $21,502.00 already mentioned. If it is the latter, it indicates that there was $115,000 in the original non-school budget that was considered capable of being cut. Was this the result of subcommittee review of the budget or action by the Town Manager? If it was a reduction in the original proposal, then where else can cuts be made?
If it doesn’t indicate cuts in some line items, then it is an incremental increase in the total town budget of $136,502.00 beyond the original proposal by the Town Manager.
Since the original proposal by the Town Manager was for a budget that was ultimately balanced by an increase in the tax rate of 4.52% to generate a total of $794,961.00, the only option to balance this increase would be a further increase in the tax rate. The additional increase of $136,502.00 would lead to an increase in the tax rate of 5.3%. That would result in a tax rate of $20.68 as opposed to the $20.53 originally estimated.
While these issues certainly need to be clarified, I still feel comfortable in repeating my original call for the Town Council to approve a bottom line budget amount of $48,814,819.00 and mandate the Town Manager to institute line item reductions to meet that target. This would maintain the current tax rate plus or minus a few basis points.