After struggling to close an anticipated shortfall of nearly $2 million in its current budget, the Board of Education got some good news Monday night.
There is now a projected surplus of $293,000 in this year's budget and an anticipated $382,000 surplus in the spending package proposed for the 2014-15 fiscal year, based on updated financial data concerning medical claims for January and February released late Friday on the health insurance fund account.
"We no longer have a cash deficit, but instead have a projected cash surplus," said school board Chairwoman Elaine Whitney.
But with a Board of Finance budget hearing on the proposed education budget scheduled Thursday, the board members Monday had a hard time trying to figure out whether to pursue the special allocation it had requested for what they thought, after adjustments, would be a $355,009 shortfall in the current budget.
After several hours of discussion and debate, the board voted unanimously to ask the finance board to defer its initial $1,088,709 appropriation request.
Whitney had asked Elio Longo, the school system's business manager, if he had "a high level of confidence" in the updated data. "Yes, very high," Longo said.
But board member Karen Kleine said she wanted "to make sure we don't act too quickly on this new data."
"What if 30 days from now, the amount changes?" she added. "I think we can wait for more data."
"We don't need to ask for an appropriation if the numbers are accurate," said member Paul Block.
At one point he asked, "Can you tell me how we miscalculated what we thought was a $2 million (dollar) issue?"
Block also said the school district should "tap into" the town's $22 million reserve, if needed, to cover any shortfalls. He added the board has been spending too much time on this one issue -- the health insurance fund -- and not enough time on students. "Can't we focus on education?" he said. "Let's make this simple."
Whitney had made a motion early in the three-hour-long meeting to cut the special allocation by $681,384 and request $407,325 instead of the $1.088 million, in order to reflect the updated projected surplus, rather than a deficit.
Debate ended with members in agreement to ask the finance board to defer action on the allocation for now. The board also decided not to make any changes to its $110.32 million operating budget proposed for fiscal year 2014-15, keeping it as is. That proposed budget is $6.1 million, or 5.9 percent, more than the current spending package.
Superintendent of Schools Elliot Landon said Monday that in his 15 years with the school system there had never been a problem with the health insurance account. He said what happened in this fiscal year is a one-time aberration caused by "extraordinary claims," and because those claims kept "drawing down on the reserve that the BOE had built up over years."
The Board of Finance is scheduled to discuss the proposed education budget for 2014-15 when it meets at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in Town Hall.