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Finance Committee Completes Report

(Black text is mostly objective, red text is mostly subjective in nature.)

Tonight was the last meeting of FinCom before Town Meeting. (FinCom meets for 30 minutes before every town meeting session).

First up was Superintendant Nate Levenson and CFO Susan Mazzarella to review the proposed School budget. Levenson walked through the budget rationale for most of an hour. It was followed by an hour of questions and discussion. Special education costs and cost controls came up repeatedly. There are items that have hidden the cost somewhat over the years, including retirements. There was discussion of strategies to keep students in-district, and strategies to keep students from needing special education. If you’re interested in the budget process, I highly recommend that you follow the link and read the budget. It’s a good document with a lot of information. You can see how the goals drive the budget decisions, and the limitations that constrain it all.

Town Manager Brian Sullivan then presented three collective bargaining articles, one for the special town meeting and two for the regular town meeting. Police and fire are still unresolved. The agreements are done with COLA raises offset by increased copay for medication and doctor visits, and increased premium contribution of 25% of the cost for new employees.

FinCom received additional information and voted to approve the DPW position change that had been removed on Monday.

The collective bargaining articles were approved 16-1. I voted in favor of them. I think that the several-year trend of these deals is headed in the right direction. The trend is not sufficient to avert a severe budget crunch at the end of the 5-year plan; I think that is why the vote was not unanimous. On the other hand, we have to pay competitive wages if we’re going to get good employees. If we negotiate too hard, we’ll end up with a different set of problems related to low-quality work. The other way to control labor costs is simply to have fewer employees. We’re going to have to employ fewer people and try to do more with less. It’s easier and more efficient to pay a few skilled people more money than it is to pay a lot of less skilled people less money. And, in some cases, we’ll simply do less.

Last item was to vote on the school budget. Several members wanted to wait for the budget to be approved by the School Committee before voting it, particularly as the board composition is about to change. Other members noted that FinCom only can recommend a bottom line, and that bottom line was very unlikely to change. By 14-2-1 the proposed budget was recommended. Debate got a bit testy on this one. I think it was late and people were restless. Also there was some frustration that the school budget is so late. There hasn’t been enough time to question and scrutinize and flush out issues. I voted for it on the basis of the proposal. If the newly elected school committee does something crazy, we can change our recommendation.


Pingback from Dan Dunn’s Podium » Town Meeting, 5/9, Session Six
Time: May 10, 2007, 3:09 am

[…] 21 – Schools. Paul Schlictman stood up to make a motion to move the traffic supervisors (crossing guards) from the school budget to the police budget. It was ruled out of order because the traffic supervisors are creating a union to the working conditions are frozen. There was also a question about whether that level of modification was permissible in the school budget. [8:41] Superintendent Levenson presented the budget (in under 10 minutes). The budget is somewhat modified since it was presented to FinComm. He explained the budget started with an $850,000 deficit if it were to fund the same people and activities as FY07 given raises, energy costs, etc. He explained that special education costs were growing too quickly to manage easily. He talked about the strategies and compromises that were made. There was lots of good stuff in the speech, but more than I want to recount here. Read it online. Several speakers asked about the traffic supervisors and expressed opinions about how it should have been handled and how it should be handled in the future. There was a long discussion about how activity fees were set. There was a discussion about how the full-time kindergarten fee was determined. There was discussion of the 5-year plan and how it differs from the O’Neill formula. There was a discussion about the viability of bringing special ed in house. There was question about potential revenue from having a cell phone tower at Pierce. The superintendent supported METCO to applause. The lack of librarians was discussed by more than one speaker. There was confusion about where the cuts in non-core teaching positions at Ottoson were. The budget was approved. This was a long debate, but a pretty good one. The budget was about $40,000,000 which defines it as a substantial issue. I’m happy to spend time debating a budget of that magnitude. I think that some of the debate about traffic supervisors was unnecessary, but not unreasonable. […]