Montville school board gets rainy day fund

Montville - The Town Council on Monday approved establishment of a fund to let the Board of Education take advantage of legislation that will allow the school to save unspent funds in a rainy day account that can be used for unanticipated expenses in the future.

Normally, the school board would have to return unspent money to the town government, which can result in some boards rushing to spend any remaining money at the end of the fiscal year. The saving provision, known as a non-lapsing fund, attempts to curb that behavior by allowing the Board of Education to save up to 1 percent of its budget for future years, although the Town Council will still have to approve the transfer of funds into the account.

Acting Superintendent Brian Levesque said the non-lapsing fund would not have an effect on the minimum budget requirement, which stipulates that the town cannot reduce the Board of Education budget by more than 0.5 percent from the previous year's budget.

Democrat Billy Caron was the only councilor to vote against establishing the fund, echoing comments made by former Town Council Chairwoman Candy Buebendorf during the public comment period.

"It's still a relatively new idea in Connecticut," said Buebendorf, also a Democrat, who encouraged the council to wait and see how the fund works out in other towns.

"The economic status of the town continues to be shaky (and) this proposal is good for the Board of Education but it ties the hands of the Town Council," she continued, saying any leftover money should be used to benefit the entire town.

Board of Assessment Appeals member Wills Pike, a Republican, also spoke against the non-lapsing fund.

The idea is good, said Pike, but the council should review the school board budget carefully before establishing the fund.

"I don't think the Board of Education has (a long-term plan)," said Pike. "You really need to do a relentless review of this budget being proposed" to "make sure there is no fat."

Levesque defended his proposed budget during Monday's meeting, insisting that the 1.55 percent increase is a "lean budget" and that he has "scrutinized every line."

The non-lapsing fund "protects the town and the schools when we have large, unanticipated expenses," Levesque told the council, reminding them that "we're not asking for an additional amount of money to come to us."

Any leftover money that exceeds 1 percent of the school board budget will still be returned to the town, he said.

Mayor Ronald McDaniel reassured councilors that "there's a couple of safety mechanisms in here on behalf of the town."

"You can say no" to the board's request to transfer funds to the non-lapsing account, said McDaniel. And the motion passed Monday is only a resolution, which can be easily undone if relations between the school board and council sour in the future.

The fund is beneficial because it "encourages the Board of Education to not expend funds at the end of the year," said McDaniel.

The resolution will take effect this budget year. Levesque told the council that he will make a request regarding transferring funds to the account shortly after the end of the fiscal year on June 30.

k.catalfamo@theday.com

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