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Schools left with $700K extra despite budget cuts Thursday, July 10, 2003
Charlie Breitrose Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM -- Despite the huge budget cuts made by the School Department, the district wound up with about $700,000 left over when the books were closed June 30.

The remaining money makes up almost 1 percent of this year's budget.  The School Committee voted Tuesday night to spend some of the leftover cash to prepay tuition for private out-of-district schools that serve special education students.  Members also gave back nearly $300,000 to the town.

"I can't remember ever returning money to the town," Superintendent Mark Smith said.  "I think it's fiscally responsible and wise to do.  I want to make sure the School Department and the town share the good and bad times."

State law makes it difficult to carry over money from one year to the next, Smith said.  The School Committee can get the money back in the case of an emergency by going to Town Meeting, he said.

The excess cash, Smith said, came as a result of lower-than-expected spending on special education, salary savings from retiring staff replaced by people with lower salaries and a budget freeze imposed early in the year.

The committee voted unanimously to prepay three months of tuition to four private special education schools -- The Learning Center for Deaf Children, May Institute, Boston Higasi and Walker Home.

"I think it's prudent to prepay," said School Committee member Diane Throop. "We don't know how much we will get from the state."

By paying the bill early, Smith said, it allows the schools to plan their budgets, too.

Other members wondered whether the money should be used to replace items cut this year.

"Colleagues in other districts use the money to reinstate programs cut during the year," said member Laurie Jeanne Carroll.

Smith agreed that some money could be put back to replace cuts, but he said it's not up to him.  "High on my list would be classroom aides," said Smith, who will retire in mid-July.  "It's not my decision.  It's up to (new superintendent) Chris Martes."

By prepaying, Smith said, the district will free up cash to put into other areas.

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