JAY — Selectmen conceded Monday that, after legal review, the School Committee could do what it wants with the $216,000 voters transferred to the school's general fund last year to offset a state penalty.
The school system faces an estimated shortfall of $484,389.72 in state education subsidy.
"I wanted the people to have a say on whether to give money to the school" to offset a state education subsidy shortfall, but in order to do that it would have to have been done within 15 days of the vote last April, board Chairman Steve McCourt said. "Everybody knows the intent was to pay the penalty."
He doesn't see the voters agreeing to pay another penalty, he said.
The state delayed the penalty a year for school districts not complying with the new school consolidation law, so the money was never spent.
The article voted on did not specifically state the intended use of the money.
Resident Delance White said he did bring up the way the article was written during last year's school budget vote. He was told, he said, that there was a 100 percent guarantee the school system would be penalized for not consolidating.
White said he understands the system is going to have to have the money to operate.
"I don't like the 100 percent guarantees that come up zero," he said.
School Superintendent Robert Wall said officials believe with the $216,000 they will be able to make it through the year, even with cutting the budget to make up for the anticipated reduction in subsidy. He also told them that federal stimulus money the school was to receive has not come in yet.
"We're trying to run a school system on money with iffy conditions," he said.
If there are cuts to be made, McCourt said, he hopes they are made in administration so they don't affect the kids.
He recommended selectmen take no action on the money.
"This is a school board decision," McCourt said.
School Committee member Tammy Dwinal-Shufelt said that they made a good faith effort when they put the budget together and expected to receive subsidy they were told they would get. She understands that people voted to transfer the money with the intent to go to pay the penalty. However, if they return the money they would have to go back to the taxpayers and ask for more money to fund the shortfall, she said.
Some cuts could be made but under the labor contracts they would have to give a 90-day notice for layoffs and that would bring them to May, she said.
She also pointed out that the School Committee has made cuts to administration, including going from two administrators at the high school to one. The board has been reducing the budget yearly, she said.
Selectman Tom Goding said cuts will need to be made for next year's budget. It is anticipated the district will receive about $1.4 million less in subsidy and other revenues for the 2010-11 budget year.
"You guys are going to have step up," Goding said. "Cuts have to be made."
The town is also going to have to make cuts, he said.