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January 31, 2013

$900K hike in Manchester Essex schools budget

MANCHESTER — The Manchester Essex Regional School Committee has unanimously adopted a budget for the next fiscal year, with a $20,775,408 spending plan that includes a 4.6 percent — or $905,215 — increase above the current school year.

The proposed increase is down from initial budget presentations in December, when the committee was projecting a hike of 6 percent, or about $1.2 million, for the 2014 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

The largest part of the budget increase, however, remains for salary increases for faculty and staff. The line item for those salaries is pegged at $13,943,424 — an increase of 9.5 percent, or $1,208,359, from the current year.

Committee Member Ann Harrison said the increase was expected, as Manchester Essex Teacher’s Association did not see a cost of living adjustment in 2012’s budget and the contract with the association was not ratified until after 2013’s budget was adopted.

“There was virtually no (cost of living agreement) increase for two years,” she said.

Aside from the salary increase, insurance and other benefits take up the largest portion of the budget at $3,853,492.

Avi Urbas, financial director for the district, said steps are already being taken to reduce spending for other post employment benefits.

“This district has agreed to fund 70 percent of those costs for new employees, reduced from previous years. In addition, a new policy will prohibit retirees from adding insurance coverage after retirement has commenced,” Urbas said.

One revenue line item surprised school officials; the level of state aid. Superintendent Pamela Beaudoin and Urbas said they did not expect Governor Deval Patrick’s Chapter 70 funding allocation numbers to be so high, with state aid currently pegged at $2,856,343, not the initially budgeted $2,562,774.

However, Urbas noted, the governor’s numbers are not final and must be approved by legislation.

“Typically the governor’s number is a high water mark,” he said.

Depending on the outcome of the state budget, investments in facilities may be added back into the budget and less reserve money would be used by the district, which would reduce assessments to both Manchester and Essex.

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