As a taxpayer in Hopkinton and a retired Chariho teacher, I am keenly aware of financial issues from both sides. I sometimes groan when I pay my tax bill, but then I remember that the majority of that money goes to the schools here, which are overwhelmingly successful by many standards, not just high-stakes testing. I am grateful for a system that serves our students well and helps hold my property value.
Since my 17-year residency in Hopkinton, I have heard criticism of the size of the fund balance held over from year to year and often used as a reason to object to the school budget. Recently I have taken the time to understand these concerns and take this opportunity to respond to the March 31 letter to the editor of this paper from Sylvia Thompson. I appreciate and thank her for her faithful service to Hopkinton, despite disagreeing with her position on the 2021 Chariho school budget referendum, which comes up for a vote on Tuesday .
I suspected Sylvia’s statement — “As of the last completed audit, Chariho had amassed a fund balance of $9.1 million” — to be misleading. When I dug into the audit to find this number, I discovered that $9.1 million is absolutely correct for the difference between what was budgeted in 2020 and what remains. However, $2.8 million of that is held in the category of non-spendable money for obligations outstanding from 2020 and $3.5 million is held in the committed category for expenses for which the system is liable in the future, leaving $2.8 million unassigned. As required by a Chariho School Committee fund balance policy, $1.6 million was sent back to the towns, leaving a $1.2 million dollar surplus in the Chariho School District fund balance to be used for emergencies. The Chariho fund balance policy allows a fund balance up to 4% of the budget. $1.2 million of a $60 million budget seems like a conservative rainy day fund to me .
I commend the School Committee and administration on applying for a waiver to the state for considering the “Newer and Fewer” proposal for matching funds. More study is obviously needed and the $250,000 allotment in the budget for this study will be well spent to help us make a good decision next year at this time for our elementary schools and is not a valid reason to vote this budget down.
I say vote yes on Tuesday, April 6, to show support for the students and staff of Chariho, confidence in the administration and School Committee and pride in our community.