New London - The school department is expected to have a $350,000 surplus in the 2012-13 budget, and officials are hoping the money can be set aside in an account to pay for small maintenance projects for the upcoming year, rather than returning the money to the city.
Steven Adamowski, state-appointed special master for New London schools, said he's recommending the Board of Education establish a "non-lapsing" account with the surplus funds from last year's $39.9 million budget.
School districts are required by law to return any surplus to the municipality, but historically, schools in Connecticut tend to spend all their money in the last few weeks of the fiscal year, Adamowski said.
"It has led to spending without planning,'' Adamowski told members of the Board of Education and the City Council during a joint meeting on Monday.
School board Chairwoman Margaret Curtin said the board is in favor of setting up a non-lapsing account that would be used for maintenance or capital spending, she said. The school board has not yet discussed creating such an account.
The $350,000 surplus is an estimate, Curtin said, because the year-end audit has not been completed.
Adamowski is recommending the non-lapsing account, which the state now allows under legislation passed in 2011, be used to pay for maintenance repairs that are under $100,000 for the district's five school buildings. The account would alleviate problems with trying to find money in the middle of the budget year for unplanned repairs, Adamowski said.
For example, he said, last year, when one of two boilers at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School failed, the school district and the city had a difficult time trying to come up the money to make the repairs.
The boiler broke down in January, revealing long-term problems with the school's aging heating system as well as lapses in communication between school and city officials. Some in the school department pointed to a lack of funding from the city as the cause of the failure. City officials blamed the school department for not properly maintaining the boiler, which was 2 years old.
It was several weeks before the two governing bodies agreed on the repair bill and how to pay for it. Eventually, the City Council approved a $10,000 expenditure from a previous appropriation for the repairs. About $4,000 was used to fix the failed boiler, and the rest was used to assess the entire heating system.
If there had been an account set up, the money would have been available immediately for repairs.
"I know that was frustrating for everyone,'' Adamowski said.
Council President Michael Passero, who is in favor of the idea, said the council would have to establish the account after receiving a request from the Board of Education.
"I like the idea of discouraging spending down at the end of the year,'' Passero said.
In 2011, the state passed legislation that gave school districts the ability to deposit unexpended funds from the prior fiscal year into a separate account instead of turning any surplus back to the town. The amount cannot exceed 1 percent of the school budget.