According to documents produced by Superintendent Ruth Miller for the School Committee, the general fund deficit at the end of last fiscal year was $86,517.
Miller said the news came as a bit of a surprise while talking to Terry Williams of the Department of Revenue in April about the district’s school lunch fund deficit, which was $210,544 at the end of last fiscal year and has continued to grow.
“He said ‘Well, Ruth, it’s not just the food account that’s in deficit,’” Miller said. Williams sent Miller several years of reports outlining leftover money or deficits in the budget, with dismal figures.
The documents showed how Pioneer’s general fund budget, plagued by as many as eight overspent accounts a year, went from having $136,461 left over after fiscal year 2012, to $68,347 after FY13 and to a mere $296 after FY14. Beginning in FY15, the general fund budget went into the red for the first time, leaving the district with a deficit of $165,711.
“In that first year, we were able to cut the deficit down, but we’re still in significant trouble from a financial perspective,” Miller explained during a School Committee meeting last month.
“We reduced all deficits except for food lunch,” she later told The Recorder. “We’re actually in a better spot, even though it doesn’t feel that way,”
The fund for capital projects was also overspent by $85,000 in FY15, but Miller said it’s since been paid off.
Miller hopes at the end of the current fiscal year to have enough left in the general fund to pay off the $86,517. With the four towns having already approved next year’s budget, money has not been set aside for the debts, though Miller hopes the budget subcommittee will meet to discuss how to possibly reallocate funds.
Meanwhile, Assistant Superintendent Gail Healy, who is also the district’s food service director, is working to reconfigure the school lunch system to make it more financially sustainable. However, her ideas thus far — which have involved cooking all meals at Pioneer and transporting them to the four elementary schools — have faced criticism from residents during School Committee meetings, so no plan has been enacted.
“At the end of FY17, we’re still going to have that school lunch deficit,” Miller said during last month’s School Committee meeting. “The (Department of Revenue) says to reallocate funds, but we don’t have any … One of the reasons we have to lay teachers off is we don’t have a handle on the money.”
Getting a handle on the budget, Miller continued, will require “a longer conversation and a bigger plan.”
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