WESTBROOK — City and school officials are pleased with a detailed plan to erase a remaining $1.1 million school budget deficit within five years.

School Operations Manager Dean Flanagin’s outline of the plan Monday was followed by Superintendent Peter Lancia’s first presentation of his proposed school budget, which calls for a 3% increase over last year.

Flanagin

We are glad to hear that most of the deficit has been resolved. The plan they developed for each account, it appears that it is acceptable to our finance staff,” Mayor Mike Foley said Wednesday.

The plan comes after previous joint meetings between the city and school committee in which no solutions or even concrete, matching numbers of the deficit were shared, frustrating residents and city officials. The school deficit was pegged at $3.5 million in a city audit released in February.

The city and school finance departments “will be working closely together in the future, with monthly reports so they can keep their eyes on the deficit and make sure it doesn’t begin to go the other way,” Foley said.

Flanagin said the deficit is now officially just over $1.1 million.

One of the largest accounts in the red is Medicaid, at $740,146. The school plans to move a clinical worker and physical therapist’s salary to the general fund while halting typical yearly revenue transfers of $50,000 from the Medicaid to the general fund. By letting the account replenish itself and moving expenditures, the deficit in Medicaid is expected to be fixed within five years, Flanagin said.

Another substantial deficit, $335,893, is in the Spring Harbor account, and that will be handled much like the Medicare account with salary transfers to the general fund and the halt of yearly revenue transfers, he said. That deficit is expected to be erased within two years.

The food service department also has a deficit, as many other local schools do, but starting in 2021 the school department plans to supplement the Food Service program from the general fund with $75,000 a year to keep it from going into the red. Yearly, food services are usually at about a $67,000 deficit, so the allotment should cover it, Flanagin said.

At-Large School Committee member Sue Salisbury thanked the Finance Committee “for working on this plan detailing how we will take care of and prevent this again.”

“Our hope is to attach this detailed plan to our next audit,” she said.

The superintendent’s proposed budget for the next school year reflects changes made to deal with the deficit, including the hiring of an accounting manager to oversee all of the schools financial practices.

The 3% proposed budget increase adds $1.26 million to this year’s budget. The total, with adult education included, is about $41.6 million.

“We identified our needs for the next year and over a number of meetings we have shaved back costs until we were able to arrive at a budget with no more than a 3% increase,” Lancia said.

Increased costs in the budget include security upgrades to the schools, technological upgrades and expanding the STEAM program to the high school and more.

Proposed budget decreases come from eliminating the K-8 summer school program, not replacing a recently retired elementary school teacher and boosting the number class size for second, third and fourth grades from 18 to 20.

“None of these reductions were fluffy or easy,” Lancia said.

The school will also scale back on capital projects and plans to reduce resources and materials for art and music, as well as athletics.

The budget takes into consideration the additional accounting hire to deal with the deficit and prevent future issues, but also revenue losses of over $200,000, after revenue that would normally be transferred to the general fund from Spring Harbor and Medicaid were halted to reduce the existing deficit. Money from the general fund will supplement food services.

The School Committee will look in-depth at different school-specific budgets at their March 16 meeting.

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