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FinCom recommends that schools absorb deficit if voters reject Prop 2½ override

Harvard’s fiscal 2021 budget includes a $317,239 Proposition 2 ½ override. The budget won’t balance without its passage. But Town Administrator Tim Bragan and others worry that voters will not approve the measure, and they have been calling for a “Plan B” that describes the specific cuts that would be made to departmental budgets to make up the difference.

On Wednesday night,  the Finance Committee gave its answer. In the event the override fails, the six committee members concluded, the entire shortfall should be borne by the schools. The vote, on a motion by Jennifer Finch, was unanimous. 

This morning, in a memo to School Superintendent Linda Dwight and School Committee Chair John Ruark, Finance Committee Chair Don Ludwig delivered the bad news. The budgets of town departments have already been cut significantly in recent years, he wrote, and “Any potential personnel cuts would severely impact the operation and delivery of basic town services,” such as police and DPW. With the school budget accounting for 70% of town spending, “we just don’t see any other way.”

“It is [FinCom’s] hope that the override passes and we do not have to go this route,” Ludwig added. But with the state’s economy likely to nosedive in the next two quarters, “there is a general feeling that the post-COVID-19 financial situation might lessen the appetite for increased tax liability” that enactment of an override would require.

In a Thursday afternoon email response to a query by the Press, Superintendent Dwight wrote that she and School Committee members were surprised to learn of the FinCom decision “without prior discussion.”  

“Usually, the budget cuts are evenly distributed between the school department and the other town departments,” she wrote. “Our proposed budget for FY21 is already below the requested 2.5% increase.”

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