, Newburyport, MA

December 4, 2013

Viccaro: budget deficit means 'hard decisions'

Additional Ch. 70 funds could help with shortfall

By Greg Phipps

---- — 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.

“We are purchasing material with grant money, including paying for substitutes,” assistant superintendent Angela Bik said. “We’ve even had to amend some of the grants in order to (acquire needed resources).”

In addressing the continuing fluctuation with estimates, Lysik said the district should have a more fixed idea of the budget situation early in the new year.

Other business

Facilities manager Steve Bergholm updated the committee on the construction of the new Bresnahan School and the Nock-Molin Middle School renovation. Work on both projects began last spring.

He said both jobs were staying within the projected timeline and that the $27 million Nock-Molin project was actually a few weeks ahead of schedule. He added that most of the window work has been done and most of the interior walls have been framed for the $38.8 million Bresnahan facility, which is set for completion by the start of next school year.

Some change-order expenditures were discussed, including $125,000 to install an industrial dishwasher at Nock-Molin. Bergholm said the Building Committee also voted to allocate $395,000 to upgrade some of the common area floors at Nock-Molin from vinyl composite tile to terrazzo, and also $160,000 for additional wall tile in stairways, corridors and restrooms.

Both upgrades, he said, were made to increase the durability of the building and reduce both short and long-term maintenance costs. He added that although there was a large bid savings in the project, these allocations came from a contingency fund that is already built into the project budget.

In his public comment, resident Ralph Orlando brought up the proposed cost of $45,000, if contracted out, to relocate the Lydia M. Collins Memorial Amphitheater from its present location at the Brown School to a site at the new Bresnahan School.

Mayor Donna Holaday, who chairs the committee, suggested arranging a volunteer effort to complete the task. The committee voted unanimously in November to authorize the relocation of the amphitheater.