First, let me compliment the Board of Education and the School administration for their management and leadership over the last six months in the face of this terrible health crisis. They have done an amazing job.
We enter this new fiscal year and school year with more uncertainty than ever. Will the schools open only to close in a few weeks or months? Will our enrollment continue to grow? How will the school schedules change should circumstances also change? As everyone works through this fluid situation, the Board of Finance will make sure we are there each step of the way to support our students, faculty, and administration and use our Town’s General Funds for emergencies. We have the funds and they will be available as needed.
There is an option at the end of each year to put up to 2% of the prior school’s operating budget into something called a ‘non-lapsing’ account for future expenditures. Based on a request by the Board of Education and the Administration in June, we quickly and effectively used $400,000 from a non-lapsing account to get a jump this summer on expected expenses related to preparing the school and protecting our students with plexiglass, hand sanitation stations, webcams and more. The one significant challenge or imperfection with using a non-lapsing account is that the money becomes a ‘blank check’ and more importantly, that process circumvents the normal appropriation process which importantly includes the Town Council. For a relatively small, emergency amount like $400,000, everyone quickly saw the logic of the appropriation and supported using the non-lapsing account option. As we move into the school year now, there is no need to use this non-lapsing account option when our “rainy day” General fund is available. The General Fund is and will be used for emergencies, and our Town’s appropriation process is in place to leverage the funds. And of course, the Board of Education has over $80M approved to spend as well. If more funding is needed, we will use our appropriation process.
The Town’s special appropriation process is open, transparent, effective, and fast. Each month we will make this a priority as the situation unfolds. As everyone has acknowledged, there may be spending requirements one month, and savings the next. Our taxpayers need to be fully aware of the expenses associated with meeting the school needs. We also want a detailed accounting of the expenses so that we can file for any reimbursements that the town is eligible for.
We fully appreciate the challenges of managing both the known, and the unknown here. This will require us to work very closely with the Board of Education and the school administration like never before, each step of the way. To make sure we are in sync and supportive of changing needs, the Board of Finance will have the Board of Education first on our monthly agenda for an update, and to review any special appropriation requests needed to address extraordinary expenses. We will plan on doing this through at least the end of the calendar year. We can be prepared to move on an appropriation at our September meeting if needed. The process is straightforward.
We are here to support our schools, students, and faculty and work together as always. We have and will use funds for emergencies like this. This is a special, unique, and unpredictable situation. We will cross the bridges and address the challenges together as we reach them. And, working together, we are prepared to provide support each month if needed. We will hope for the best but be prepared for what unfolds.
Chairman, Board of Finance