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December 4, 2013

Viccaro: budget deficit means 'hard decisions'

Additional Ch. 70 funds could help with shortfall

NEWBURYPORT — Estimated school budget deficit numbers for this school year continue to change as more updated figures were brought before the School Committee on Monday.

Executive assistant Nancy Lysik presented budget totals that showed a potential deficit of $545,000, down from the $707,000 figure projected at a School Committee meeting late last month. The deficit crease was due to a possible Chapter 70 education aid allocation of $161,000 from the state.

Lysik noted that the Chapter 70 funds still need to be approved by the City Council, which will vote on the measure at their meeting on Monday.

Despite carry-over circuit breaker, school choice and transportation revenue from fiscal year 2013, as well as anticipated transportation income, Lysik said any additional circuit breaker and choice revenue “will not substantially reduce the deficit,” and that an end-of-year shortfall is almost certain.

Superintendent Susan Viccaro likened the current situation to “the perfect storm,” adding that the Newburyport school budget has been underfunded for too many years, and that Newburyport ranked number 292 on a list of more than 300 cities when it comes to education funding.

“I think the city’s been heading towards this for a number of years and now we’re faced with some hard decisions,” she said. “We’ve used up most of the (extra) funds we had to cover past deficits. We don’t have that luxury any more.”

Lysik said ancillary funds of more than $600,000 were available to use in order to cover a projected deficit last year, but that amount sits at just $53,000 this time around.

As she has done at past meetings, Viccaro stressed the importance of incorporating a contingency fund as part of future budgets to help cover unanticipated yearly expenses.

The committee agreed that budget cuts will also need to be discussed with school administrators.

“We’re turning over every rock we possibly can to lessen the shortfall,” said committee vice-chairwoman Cheryl Sweeney, who asked if any grant money was currently being used to handle needed education expenditures.

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