WOONSOCKET – A difficult fiscal year for the School Department may end on a good note despite earlier speculation to the contrary.
School Department Business Manager Stacey Busby told the School Committee on Wednesday that a budget update prepared by her department and the city’s accounting firm, Braver PC, projects school spending to stay within budget or even tally a slight surplus as the fiscal year ends on June 30.
Busby said the projection is the result of a meeting she had with representatives of the state Auditor General’s office and the city’s auditing firm, Braver, PC, on Monday.
Busby projected the school department as breaking even on its budget at that meeting and was asked to work with Braver’s representatives to show supporting information, she said.
“I’m still saying we will break even,” Busby said of her own end of year budget forecast.
After working on the forecast with Braver principal Robert J. Civetii, Busby said she learned Monday night that the company would be projecting a small surplus of $80,000 by the end of the fiscal year.
The forecast was made after Busby provided Braver with documentation on the school department’s expected pension system contributions for 2011, she said.
Busby credited local department heads, administrators and school staff for working to stay within the school department’s current budget of $60 million.
“I think everyone has done a great job this year trying to run a school system on a shoe string budget,” she said.
Although the school department still has seven weeks before the fiscal year ends and will also face summer payroll expenses and other costs before closing Fiscal 2011 accounts, Busby noted the department has thus far spent 72 percent of its allotted revenues and still has approximately $16 million in 2011 revenue still available.
There is always the risk of a change in state support to schools in the final days of the budget as occurred last year, according to Busby. But, while such a change in state support pushed the local school budget into the red last year, Busby said the state had given warning the prior November that it would not be able to honor its original state aid awards. No indication has come from the state that the school department could face that situation again this year, according to Busby.
The projection of a balanced budget comes as the school department is losing School Superintendent Robert J. Gerardi Jr. to a new job in Massachusetts. Members of the committee commended Gerardi on Wednesday for his work in bringing the department’s budget in line despite the community’s ongoing financial difficulties and also praised Busby for her work on the budget.
Gerardi said he was pleased to hear the budget forecast come in as balanced and also credited Busby for maintaining the department’s bottom line.
“We spent the money we said we were going to spend and we stayed within our budget,” Gerardi said.
School Committeewoman Linda Majewski said Busby had told the committee it would be able to stay within budget last fall and followed through on that projection.
“I want to thank you for your great work,” Majewski said.
School Committeewoman Anita McGuire-Forcier also commended Busby’s work. “I know it has been an uphill battle,” McGuire-Forcier said while noting the challenges the department has faced in finding ways to reduce spending to available revenues.
“It hasn’t been easy but it looks like we are going to have a balanced budget going into next year,” she said.
School Committee Chairman Marc A. Dubois said the budget projection was good news for a school department that traditionally runs on tight purse strings.
Woonsocket as a community contributes just 12 percent of the funding needed to operate its schools, he noted, while nearby Lincoln funds between 70 percent to 80 percent of it school costs with local revenue.
“I’m very proud of everybody involved in the budget here,” Dubois said.
School Committeewoman Eleanor Nadeau agreed with that view. “The City of Woonsocket and the Woonsocket school department have the lowest per capita cost per student in the state and yet we do an excellent job with the money given to us,” Nadeau said. “That’s because we have good people and because we spend conservatively and make tough decisions,” Nadeau said.