School officials irked by budget
Town manager offers 11 percent hike to safety
Stoughton’s town manager is again raising the hackles of local school officials by proposing a budget that gives a more than 11 percent increase to public safety departments but only 2.5 percent to the schools.
Francis Crimmins said his proposed fiscal 2013 budget reflects his feeling that schools have gotten more than their share in recent years while other departmental needs have gone unmet. But the town manager’s allocation, which follows a similar move last year, is seen by some as unreasonable to the schools and smacks of power-grabbing or, at least, an unhealthy deviation from the traditional municipal budget process.
Crimmins’s budget would increase school spending by $930,000 from last year, but would be about $836,000 less than the proposed budget the School Committee adopted on Dec. 20.
“My recollection in the past is that town managers haven’t tinkered with the number passed by the School Committee,’’ said Joyce Husseini, chairwoman of the School Committee. “Traditionally, we’ve submitted a budget for the Finance Committee to consider, and the Finance Committee has asked us to make adjustments.’’
A year ago, Crimmins’s proposed budget included a figure for schools that was $2 million less than that adopted by the committee, causing an outcry that forced Crimmins to get a legal opinion affirming that he was within his rights in filing his own budget recommendation. Both his proposed budget and the budget filed by the School Committee went to the Finance Committee.
When the revenue picture improved later in the budget cycle, the $35.9 million figure recommended by the Finance Committee for schools and adopted by Town Meeting was $95,000 less than the budget the School Committee adopted in December 2010.
In a recent interview, Crimmins said his fiscal 2013 budget reflects cuts and shortfalls in previous budgets that have left some departments understaffed and unable to deliver services.
“I’m attempting to see all needs addressed,’’ he said. “In contrast, the schools have gone it alone in the past with concern to their budget and it’s worked for them. I’m not anti-school, I’m pro-Stoughton.’’
Crimmins’s budget would add three firefighters to help staff the recently reopened Station 2. It would create 10 positions in a restructured Police Department with a budget that would increase by about $500,000, or 12.2 percent. He would also add an information technology director at Town Hall.
Crimmins concedes his fiscal 2013 budget is not balanced: He has proposed spending that exceeds revenues by $1.76 million.
He has been especially critical of last year’s budget process, saying the School Department’s proposed Fiscal 2012 budget and its 4.56 percent increase violated an unspoken agreement on how to divide available revenues, and was “fiscally irresponsible.’’
He pointed to a “fact sheet’’ distributed by the schools to Town Meeting members last spring, a document he said had several false and misleading statements. He said he was especially irked by a statement that the schools’ proposed budget contained no wage increases; the School Committee settled on a three-year contract with the Stoughton Teachers Association soon afterward, with a 1 percent increase the first year and a 2 percent increase due this month.
Husseini said the committee was able to fund the contract in both fiscal 2011 and fiscal 2012 by using funds that were intended for maintenance and supplies and “doing without,’’ in many cases.
“We do have the leeway to move funds around, but we have tried to be transparent in what we’re doing and where the money comes from,’’ she said.
Husseini said the committee’s proposed fiscal 2013 budget folds 14.2 positions back into the budget that had been funded by outside grants or federal stimulus money.
“There are no new programs,’’ she said. “We’re just trying to hold the line.’’
Committee members say the budget is designed to maintain class sizes and programs, preserve extracurricular activities and athletics with no fee increases, and add a library/media specialist at Stoughton High, one of the recommendations made by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges when it renewed Stoughton High’s accreditation but put the school on probation.
Finance Committee chairwoman Holly Boykin, who will leave the town panel in April, said that she met frequently with all sides during last year’s budget process, as she usually does, and that school spending in fiscal 2012 was 67 to 68 percent of available town revenues, consistent with previous years.
“I think we as a board met the needs of the town manager,’’ said Boykin. “There were several new positions added on the town side. If there’s a need he feels we didn’t meet, we’ll be having budget meetings soon.’’
Selectmen began holding hearings on the budget submitted by Crimmins this week before sending their recommendations to the Finance Committee, which will in turn advise Town Meeting, which has the final say.
“I always say don’t get too attached or too excited about that revenue sheet. It will change,’’ said Boykin. “I’m sure when the time comes, we’ll have a good dialogue about our priorities as a town.’’
Rich Fahey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.