BRISTOL - School administrators went before the Board of Finance Tuesday night to discuss a $2.4 million deficit in the education budget.
The finance board became aware of the deficit, which stemmed from special education cost overruns, only hours before the meeting.
The finance board voted to make an additional appropriation of $2.4 million into the education budget.
“The city has no control over the Board of Education budget,” said Mayor Ken Cockayne. “It [the school board] is asking for the second year in a row for taxpayers to cover its deficit.”
Susan Moreau, deputy superintendent for Bristol public schools, and Michael Drury of the special education department, explained that the deficit came from unexpected costs related to special education, specifically tuition and transportation.
The deficit was identified by the City of Bristol Comptroller’s Office when balancing the budget. The finance board was baffled as to why the deficit was not previously noticed by the school board, but identified only a week before school starts.
Moreau and Drury said that until recently, they believed there was a roughly $100,000 surplus in the education budget, however, there wasn’t. They noted that the deficit might have been overlooked or a clerical error by its own finance board, but were unsure exactly how the deficit went unnoticed.
Cheryl Thibeault, chairwoman of the finance board, said the issue could have been avoided this second time if the Board of Education had a special revenue fund for special education costs, which the finance board has requested in the past.
“It is very clear that we would have to make big changes to not run into the same problem again,” said Thibeault. “The Board of Finance asked for a special revenue fund for special education costs that would have prevented this.”
The finance board recommended that the school board attend its monthly meetings to provide a year-to-date budget report to improve communication between the two boards.
It was also recommended that the school board create a separate account for special education costs, as the finance board previously requested, in order to prevent a similar situation in the future.
Multiple members of the finance board noted that it is a difficult time for the city to balance the education budget deficit when it could also see a $3.5 million deficit itself from the state.
The $2.4 million appropriation will now be recommended to the joint board at its next meeting.
Lorenzo Burgio can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.