School officials use unconfirmed surplus to address deficit

School officials use unconfirmed surplus to address deficit

PAWTUCKET - The Pawtucket School Committee voted last week to take $943,745 from last year's projected $1.83 million budget surplus to plug this year's budget hole. With the move, last year's unaudited (unconfirmed) budget surplus now stands at $890,563, according to school officials.

School board members said they were left with little choice after spending $803,329 this year on unanticipated school ceiling repairs and another $452,655 on added expenses due to unexpectedly high student enrollment numbers. They were able to find $312,127 in savings within the 2013-2014 budget, but were still left with the projected deficit of nearly $1 million.

The added expenses of ceiling repairs and 225 extra students put the School Department in a budget hole that education officials were required to get out of, said School Committee Chairman Alan Tenreiro.

"Legally, we have to take care of our current-year deficit," he told The Breeze.

Tony Pires, director of administration for Mayor Donald Grebien, questioned the School Committee's move, saying the school auditor and the Auditor General will ultimately decide if it's appropriate to plug an operating budget deficit with money taken from an unaudited surplus.

"They could declare war on Canada, but it doesn't mean that's the right thing to do or anyone's going to go forward with it," said Pires. He said there's still "plenty of time" in the year, and school officials should have tried finding the money elsewhere.

With much of this year's deficit now taken care of, school officials are asking their counterparts in city government to help them erase a remaining $2.3 million "structural" deficit left over from Fiscal Year 2012. That 2012 deficit was originally projected at $7.3 million, said Tenreiro, but school officials "worked our butts off" to get it down. A deficit reduction bond would allow the city to pay back the $2.3 million deficit over a period of years.

Supt. Deborah Cylke reminded school board members that the $7.3 million deficit in 2012 was largely a "manufactured deficit" to begin with, as it included an allowed $2.9 million reduction in revenue from the city.

School Committee members Joanne Bonollo, David Coughlin and Sandra Cano all voiced their opinion that the remaining reserves should be kept by the Pawtucket School Department as protection against potential new expenses like pay raises for teachers under a potential new teacher contract, and not used to start chipping away at the $2.3 million deficit from 2012.

School Committee member Raymond Spooner voted against the spending of last year's surplus in part because it doesn't account for unforeseen expenses.