Gov. Deval Patrick’s announcement, this week, that Massachusetts communities will lose state funding for local aid and special education was not greeted as good news by Watertown officials but the cuts should not have a major impact.
The one percent in unrestricted local aid will cost Watertown about $56,000, and the town’s schools will lose about $85,000 from the special education circuit breaker fund, according to information State Sen. Will Brownsberger, D-Belmont, provided to town officials.
The cuts are part of Gov. Patrick’s plan to close a $540 million shortfall in Fiscal 2013 - the current year’s budget. The hole is due to lower than expected tax revenue as a result of the current economic slump.
Brownsberger wrote that the Legislature may take steps to try to prevent cuts to local aid, but he fears that there may not be anything that can be done to stop the cuts in special education dollars.
State Rep. Jonathan Hecht, D-Watertown, credited the governor with spreading out the pain of the cuts, but he still hopes to see the local money restored.
“The local aid cut, especially, I’m going to be looking for a way to avoid that,” Hecht said. “Hopefully we can find a way to close the gap without taking from local aid.”
Special Ed Cuts
The Watertown Public Schools will be able handle the cut in the circuit breaker money, said John Loughran, the district’s director of Business Services.
“We budgeted a little more than $1.2 million, and the funding came in at approximately $1.8 million,” Loughran said. “If we lose 4.8 percent, we should be OK.”
Under the special education circuit breaker statute, Loughran said, the state is supposed to provide 75 percent of the funds, but he noted that districts have never received that amount. When Watertown school officials made the budget for projected the state would provide 55 percent of the funds, but it was due to come in at about 60 percent. In prior years, the state’s portion has been as low as 40 percent, Loughran said.
Cuts to State Programs
The governor’s plan calls for cuts to state programs, along with using more than $300 million in the state reserves and “rainy day” funds.
Hecht said he feared cuts would be made that would impact people and programs in Watertown.
“I give the governor some credit. Things I was worried about, funding for social services that would impact programs like Perkins School for the Blind, were not included in the cuts,” Hecht said.
Cuts will be made to state programs, including the Department of Children and Families, mental health programs, the Employment Services Program and MassHealth, according to a report by the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center.