Hoping to limit stress, school officials hold off on budget

Hoping to limit stress, school officials hold off on budget

CUMBERLAND – The Cumberland School Committee decided Tuesday to temporarily table its vote on next year’s budget as the coronavirus forces schools to close for an indefinite amount of time.

Before the meeting, which was done online and was accessible by phone or computer, Chairman Paul DiModica told The Breeze that the School Department would ask the town for a 4 percent increase of $1.8 million to level-fund the district, and that some jobs would still be on the line.

Supt. Bob Mitchell said that based on conversations with Mayor Jeff Mutter, they may need to adjust the timeline for the budget. He said the coronavirus has impacted revenue on the town, school and state levels.

School officials in early March discussed the budget shortfall the district faced going into next year even before the coronavirus shut schools down.

Even if the school district receives the $1.8 million from the town, there could be substantial cuts.

“At this time we don’t know how much we’re going to get from the town and we may not know for a while,” Mitchell said. “We are beginning to have conversations about cuts we’d have to make if we don’t get the $1.8 million.”

Anything less than $1.8 million would result in additional cuts, he said.

“It would be prudent for us to get a better feel for how much we're going to get from the town before we really start to create additional concern by making additional cuts at this time,” Mitchell told the committee.

DiModica agreed that the committee should wait until the mayor and Town Council have given a definitive number before cutting anything.

The deadline to announce layoffs for next year is June 1.

“I’d hate to have a bloodbath like we did last year laying off the people we did and leaving people scrambling,” DiModica said.

With anxiety levels already high, Mitchell said he doesn’t want to add to the stress.

“People are already fearful about what the future holds, concerned about generating income, paying their bills, getting sick … The thought of adding to that by considering we may need to make some layoffs to balance the budget, I just don’t know that this is the time to do it,” he said. “This is a difficult enough time. To have people worrying also about whether or not they’ll have a job is really piling it on.”

While no votes were taken in executive session, the committee spoke privately about teacher contracts.

DiModica told The Breeze than an informal meeting was held previously with teacher union leadership about delaying next year’s 2 percent raise for an $800,000 savings.

“The money would have been paid out in the next couple of years with interest,” DiModica said.

Even with the delay in raises there would have been some reduction in staffing and changes to programming in the district, he said, as the district is facing cuts from the state.

No vote was taken Tuesday on whether Durham School Services should be paid for the remainder of the school year despite not providing busing services. Other communities have taken varied approaches to the issue.