Board of Education debates spending at MBR level
WINSTED — Can a school district spend money that has been promised to them by the town, but not yet received?This was the hot topic of debate at the Board of Education’s Budget and Finance Committee meeting on Thursday, Jan. 5.At the meeting, Superintendent of Schools Thomas Danehy explained that, last year, the board approved to spend at the level of the town approved budget for fiscal 2011-12 of $18.6 million.However, the board also voted to go through all legal options to make sure that the town fund the state set Minimum Budget Requirement (MBR) of $19,958,149.In late November, the newly elected Democratic majority of the Board of Selectmen voted to provide the school district with the extra $1,358,149 in order to make up the MBR shortfall.Despite this, the selectmen have not come up with a plan in order to make up for the shortfall.At the Board of Education meeting, Danehy said the district should plan on spending at the full MBR level.“I am not aware of any town in Connecticut that says, ‘OK, so your school budget is $80 million and your school year starts on July 1, so here’s your full $80 million,’ ” Danehy said. “You are not going to spend $80 million in one month. The school budget runs in tandem with tax revenues that happen over the course of a year. As we accrue expenses, we pay as we go.”“The Democrats of this town said they would make up the MBR shortfall, but where do you think they are going to get the money?” board member Carol Palomba asked.“It’s up to the town to decide how they get the money,” board member Monique Parks-Abreu said.Danehy agreed with Parks-Abreu and said the point of the board deciding to spend at the MBR funded level is not to decide where the revenue comes from.Board member James Roberts said it was a bad idea for the school district to spend at the MBR-funded level.“We can’t spend money that we have not been assured of getting,” Roberts said. “We cannot pass a budget because we don’t know where the MBR funds are.”In response, board member Mari-Ellen Pratt Valyo said that state law dictates that the town must fund the MBR, no matter how they decide to fund it.“But state law also says we cannot spend in excess of appropriation,” Roberts told Valyo. “If we pass a budget spending at the MBR level but we don’t have the funds from the town, what will happen?” “But for the school district, we’re breaching state law if we’re not spending at the MBR level,” Valyo told Roberts.Toward the end of the debate, Chairman Susan Hoffnagle said she would argue that the school district would receive the funds to make up for the MBR shortfall this year.“How the town gets the funds is all a matter of speculation,” Hoffnagle said.The discussion ended with no formal decision or vote by the board.