SACO — The city of Saco may use money from the municipal unassigned fund balance to help pay off tuition costs to Thornton Academy.

According to city code, the city’s unassigned fund balance should be at a maximum 10 percent of the city’s annual budget.

The city’s unassigned fund balance is 11.5 percent of the city’s annual budget, or almost $574,000 above the 10 percent threshold.

City Administrator Kevin Sutherland at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting that the council consider allowing the School Department to use the $574,000 toward money it owes Thornton Academy.

The School Department pays tuition to private school Thornton Academy to educate the city’s high school students.

The School Department had budgeted for 949 Thornton Academy students this year. However, there are 42 more students than forecasted, which leaves the school department owing about $470,000 more than budgeted this year for tuition and associated costs.

In total, the School Department owes Thornton $900,000 over what it had budgeted to give to the school this year. This includes a $232,000 payment carried over from last year that it had hoped to be able to pay the private school this year.

The School Department earlier this month approved a spending freeze, which the department estimates will cover about $300,000 of the shortfall.

Sutherland said he struggled because the reserve fund was created by the careful work of prudent city staff, and ideally it should be used to deal with capital needs on the city side of the budget.

However, he said, considering the needs of the School Department, he recommended the city consider using the $574,000 in surplus to help pay off the debt to Thornton.

Superintendent of Schools Dominic DePatsy said the School Department doesn’t want to “keep pushing forward” the debt and wants to instead “clean this up” so it can budget accurately in the future.

City councilors will vote on the issue at a later date.

Staff Writer Liz Gotthelf can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 325 or [email protected]

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