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Weymouth schools get one-time cash windfall

WEYMOUTH — School officials breathed a sigh of relief last week when the Town Council and mayor agreed to spend an extra $337,409 on school expenses.

“I am very, very happy that they were able to make this happen and get the funding,” said School Committee chairman Sean Guilfoyle.

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The money is on top of the approximately $58.4 million school operating budget approved for fiscal 2014, and $900,000 in free cash earmarked to pay for tuition for special education students in programs outside of Weymouth, according to Bill McKinney, the town’s chief financial officer.

The School Committee had requested a $62.8 million budget next fiscal year, and Guilfoyle said that without additional money the schools faced cuts and possible layoffs — as well as possible state sanctions.

The extra money means Weymouth will meet the state’s required “net school spending” — a minimum amount a school district is expected to spend to educate its students. The state calculates the amount individually for each community. Communities that spend less face possible loss of state aid and may not be able to set their tax rates, according to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Weymouth has had trouble meeting the required spending amount for several years, and officials complain that the rules are stacked against the town.

For example, while most communities include the money they spend on retired teachers’ health benefits as part of their net school spending, Weymouth is not allowed to, according to McKinney. That amounts to about $4.5 million annually, he said.

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He said the State House is considering legislation to make the net school spending formula more equitable.

McKinney said the extra money approved by the Town Council at its June 17 meeting came from leftover balances in numerous town accounts for specific projects or expenses.

The amounts ranged from $130 to $203,000 — the latter left over from money set aside, but not spent, to meet payroll in fiscal 2011 when there were 53 weeks, instead of the normal 52, McKinney said.

The council’s 10-1 vote prohibited the School Department from spending the appropriation on personnel. Guilfoyle said the money will go toward one-time expenses, such as supplies for vocational programs and curriculum materials.

“There are a lot of needs,” he said.

Both the School Committee and Town Council lobbied Mayor Sue Kay to find more money for the schools, with council members working with the administration to locate the cash.

“We’ve emptied piggy banks,” Councilor Francis Burke said before the vote.

Several councilors said Weymouth needs to find ways to increase revenue, mentioning zoning changes to attract business and even approaching the controversial issue of increasing property taxes.

“The biggest issue facing the town is the revenue stream,” said Councilor Brian McDonald. “We don’t have the commercial and industrial base [we need] and we have a very, very reasonable burden on the taxpayers.”

Councilor Robert M. Conlon voted against giving the schools more money, saying he would rather give it to the Police Department. The department had its budget request cut and, as a result, is not filling a vacant police officer’s position.

“It will mean less patrols, less protection for the residents,” Conlon said. “I’m also concerned for officers’ safety. [The] funds should be redirected to the Police Department.”

The $139.6 million town budget for fiscal 2014 also means the libraries and the public works department will not be able to maintain their current level of service, according to the mayor.

Johanna Seltz can be reached at seltzjohanna@gmail.com.

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