The city’s hard-pressed taxpayers caught a big break this week.
After fretting last winter that the school system might run short of cash, educators clamped the lid on spending tightly enough to wind up with a $798,000 surplus by the end of the fiscal year in June.
“I’m glad we ended up on the right side of the ledger,” said Superintendent Philip Streifer.
The extra cash will help bolster the city’s end-of-the-year financial statements, City Comptroller Glenn Klocko said Friday.
That will help Bristol’s standing in the bond marketplace, where experts pore over the fiscal statements to try to ascertain the financial well-being of municipalities looking to borrow money.
Klocko said that with the school surplus locked in, the reports “will look very fine” to Wall Street.
But, he said, the high price of heating the schools this winter is likely to require an infusion of city cash so several hundred thousand dollars of the surplus will probably wind up heading back to the Board of Education.
“It’s going to be dissolved quickly” given the economic conditions facing the community, Klocko said.
Streifer said that with fuel costs up and “a built-in deficit” in the school budget this year, “I would urge them not to spend” the excess cash.
Klocko said the Board of Finance will almost certainly agree to sock the money away to help ensure that the city can cover its bills during the current fiscal year.
“This year is going to be just as difficult as last year,” he said, or perhaps harder.
Streifer said that educators froze the school budget in March after discerning that the money might run short before the June 30 end of the fiscal year.
By doing so, he said, they saved $1 million in salaries and benefits, cut oil bills by $76,000 by turning down thermostats and managed to pare special education spending sharply.
“There are things we didn’t do,” Streifer said, in order to pull it off.
Streifer said that education overseers could do more to control spending if the computer system they rely on – which is based at City Hall – could provide more timely information.
He said he would like to be able to get up-to-date reports each week.
This year’s school budget totals about $100 million, not counting grants that aren’t included in the operating budget.
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