There is a $202,000 deficit in the Old Rochester Regional School District fiscal year 2019 budget, and the Marion Finance Committee wants to know why.
Marion Finance Director Judy Mooney on July 10 said she and Town Administrator Jay McGrail received an expense report from the ORR School District roughly a month ago that revealed the deficit and, according to Mooney, she and McGrail asked the district for information relating to the deficit around three weeks ago and still have not received what they have asked for.
Since that time, Business Administrator Paul Kitchen has resigned from the position that he has held for only about five months, effective late September.
Marion Finance Director Judy Mooney said there are no other funding sources to cover an FY19 deficit, and all three towns would have to agree to fund any remaining ORR deficit.
“[Fiscal year 2019] is pretty much a done deal,” said Mooney, adding that the school district should still be closing out some purchase and sales orders and other encumbrances and in order to balance out the FY19 budget, it might not be able to pre-pay some of its out-of-district tuitions as it often does. “That’s probably what they won’t be able to do as much this year,” she said.
“So it’s their problem, not ours,” said Finance Committee member Margie Baldwin.
But it could be the FinCom’s problem in the future, commented Mooney. “Clearly you can see that in the audit.”
As the school district negotiates its next contract with teachers, Mooney said curtailing teacher salary increases is likely where the focus needs to be.
“ORR’s budget is probably, I’m gonna guess, 80 percent salary, 70 percent,” said Mooney. “That’s … huge – and the rest are all expenses.”
The FinCom is concerned about controlling teachers’ salaries and briefly discussed School Choice, which only brings ORR $5,000 per out-of-district student.
“The numbers were way off for last year’s budget, for 2019,” said Finance Committee Chairman Peter Winters, pointing specifically to the utilities line item which he said has been “way off” since fiscal year 2016. “There is a lot of stuff here that’s disconcerting – or concerning, however you want to phrase it.”
“I think their game plan is to not prepay (tuitions), said Marion Town Administrator Jay McGrail. “And that’s going to screw them in 2021.”
McGrail commented that the towns “never really have a chance to delve in and look at their (the ORR School District’s) overall expenses.”
Mooney said the FinCom could only speculate as to the reason for such a significant FY19 overspending because, she said, “We’ve heard nothing.”
FinCom member Karen Kevelson commented that “most teachers” at ORR have salaries close to $100,000 a year, “And we’re getting a mediocre education for that – I mean a mediocre education.
“Parents are complaining,” Kevelson continued. “Parents that I don’t even know that say they regret moving to Marion or Mattapoisett because of the high school.” She added that students “aren’t learning as they should be.”
According to Kevelson, she said ORR teachers are “the highest paid in the state.”
Mooney suggested the FinCom look into ORR’s financial trends because, she said, “I don’t thing anyone’s ever delved into ORR.”
“Looking at their financials, it really doesn’t look good,” stated Mooney.
We have tried for 10 years to work with ORR,” said Kevelson, “and we’re not very good at it or successful at it, and we’ve tried to hold them accountable but it’s just …”
“Well, let’s try it again,” said McGrail. “Let’s see if we can pull together some people from other towns,” he added, suggesting a subcommittee of sorts to investigate ORR’s financial situation.
After the meeting, McGrail told The Wanderer that ORR still had time to balance its FY19 books because they hadn’t closed them yet.
“They can change a lot within their budget,” he said.
Mooney added that the expense report showing the $202,000 deficit was generated a month ago, but added, “But really it’s going to be covered by the end of the year with their purchase orders and encumbrances.”
During a follow-up phone conversation with Superintendent Doug White on July 12, White stated that the June 2019 financial report that displayed the $202,000 deficit was a result of the timing of the report itself, as various encumbrances had not yet “hit” the report as having been reconciled before the FY19 books are closed.
Fiscal year 2020 began on July 1, 2019, during which time FY19 financials are generally still in the process of reconciliation.
According to White, “The report changed back over,” putting the FY19 budget back into the positive heading into FY20.
As for Kitchen’s resignation, White stated that Kitchen has resigned “for personal reasons,” and will remain in the position of business administrator until September 24.
The position is currently posted and will be filled once a qualified candidate is found.
The next meeting of the Marion Finance Committee is scheduled for August 14 at 7:00 pm at 13 Atlantis Drive.
Marion Finance Committee
By Jean Perry