A series of budget amendments approved by the Medford School Board Monday included spending $200,000 to fund controversial new contracts district administrators received in the fall.
The board voted 5-2 in favor of a combined 12 budget amendments, with board members Marlene Yesquen and Paulie Brading voting against the amendments because of a section addressing the new contracts.
The district in August announced contracts that increased salaries for administrators and confidential staff but took away an early retirement option and required the group to cover more of its insurance costs.
The wage increases for the employees cost the district about $350,000 this year, while the immediate savings with insurance costs was only $150,000, according to the amendment.
"I take seriously the fact that I have been entrusted with the public's tax dollars," said Yesquen. "I have talked with our CFO, and this is an increase in salary."
Administrators and confidential staff received a 4.5 percent pay raise, with a one-time 2 percent stipend on top this year, beginning with their Oct. 1 paychecks and with the increase retroactive to July 1, when the group's previous contract ended.
While Yesquen and Brading voted against the amendment because of the contract changes, other board members said they supported the changes, anticipating the long-term savings the district will see in health care costs.
"The staff did not get an increase, when considering what they sacrificed," said board member Ron Andersen. "This was not done to reward the highest paid in the district, but to set an example." (Correction: see below)
Ultimately the district is spending nearly $1 million less than anticipated this fiscal year, after originally planning to deficit spend at least $4 million.
Among the other budget amendments was the removal of a goal to cut at least $250,000 from the district's special services budget, a section of the budget that represents costs not directly inside the classroom.
The board had asked the district to make the cut last spring, but administrators said Monday that they had not been able to.
"We asked for $300,000 in cuts, and we're sitting here in January and we never got it," said board member Paulie Brading.
Long said the cuts weren't made because they didn't seem practical.
"To cut deeper than that in special services, it would imperil us," said Long.
Some board members questioned whether an overall increase in revenue for the district led to the district discounting the idea of making the cuts.
The district originally estimated that health care costs for the current fiscal year would be about $16.3 million, but then decreased the estimate to $14.5 million by late November, according to Brad Earl, district chief financial officer.
"It's come down substantially from our original forecast," said Earl. "We just haven't had many large claims in the last year, and that's good, but we can't predict that."
An increase in student enrollment also brought revenue into the district, though much of the money was passed through to the district's two charter schools or spent on more teachers.
Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: The spelling of Andersen's name has been corrected in this version.