NEW: Town, school finance directors issue joint statement about energy reserve fund flap

Tuesday afternoon, Town Finance Director Aleesha Benjamin and Schools Assistant Superintendent of Finance Michelle Cresta issued a joint statement days after confusion erupted at a Select Board meeting about $350,000 in energy reserve funds typically allotted to the schools.

“The town’s new finance director was unaware of the school’s utilization of the energy fund,” the statement reads. “Historically, the school department has utilized a majority portion of the energy reserve fund as the schools are the largest department in the town with far and away the largest portion of the town’s overall utility costs.”

The statement says that the schools will have access to the full $350,000 in funds for FY2024, which begins July 1.

At the June 21 Select Board meeting, School Committee Chair Sarah Fox, Superintendent John Buckey and several parents expressed concern that the schools may need to come up with the $350,000 in energy funds for FY24, possibly leading to deep cuts. The day before, town voters rejected an override, leading to 33 school positions being cut this week.

The joint statement lays out the plan moving forward, explaining that the town will move the $350,000 in funds from its budget to the school budget.

“Beginning with the next budget cycle, fiscal year 2025 (FY25) the school department will not rely on the town’s energy reserve fund, the town finance director will transfer the funds to the school budget, and the school department will build their budget with a school energy reserve for the same amount.”

The statement goes on to say that Benjamin and Cresta will “continue to work collaboratively on financial matters and look forward to working together closely on a variety of financial issues affecting the town. We were pleased that a better solution has been reached… We are confident that together we can create a more transparent and fiscally balanced approach regarding the town and school budget.”

Fox told the Current that she supports the decision to move the schools’ portion of the energy reserve fund to the school budget.

“This makes the lines much clearer and offers more transparency,” in the budget, she said.

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Leigh Blander is an experienced TV, radio and print journalist who has written hundreds of stories for local newspapers, including the Marblehead Reporter. She also works as a PR specialist.

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