Closing buildings, eliminating athletics, arts and music, languages, and other big changes all made the “doomsday” list of possible cuts compiled by Groton-Dunstable Regional School District administrators as they catalogued options to reduce to the district’s Fiscal Year 2015 budget. The list was presented to Groton-Dunstable Regional School Committee members Thursday, February 20, in a workshop session where they searched for ways to close a $2.6 million gap between the proposed budget and expected revenue.
Interim Superintendent Tony Bent said the possible list of cuts — totaling $2.7 million — were a worst-case scenario. He told committee members and the audience that he hoped that most of what was discussed will not have to be implemented. But some items may be implemented if Groton and Dunstable cannot — or do not choose to — approve increasing their assessment enough to cover the entire budget or a modified one. The school committee has until March 5 to certify a budget — up until then, any type of modifications are possible. After that date, reductions are possible but not increases.
Groton Selectmen and Finance Committee members met on Saturday morning to discuss strategies for cutting the town side of the budget to free up room under the tax levy limit to apply additional funds to the school’s problem. One option includes changing the type of funding used to pay for a new fire station to a debt exclusion, rather than paying for it under the annual tax levy.
Some of the options Bent discussed include:
The document detailing all possible cuts is posted on the district’s website, with the addition of “priority levels” from 1-3 that were not discussed Thursday. The “priorities,” according to the report, actually rank “the level of further exploration needed with Level 1 needing more in-depth research and level 3 needing less.”
Beside cuts, the group also discussed potential revenue sources, including approaching the two private schools in town, Groton School and Lawrence Academy, to help fund the educational costs of the 15 children of faculty members residing on the campuses who are attending the town’s public schools. As tax-exempt entities, neither school pays the town property taxes. Discussions are ongoing with the schools.
School Committee member Jim Frey, head of the Budget & Finance committee, emphasized that the workshop presented possibilities, not certainties. “Just because we’re talking about it here today doesn’t mean it’s going to happen,” he said. He also reported that legislation is pending that would allow regional school districts to charge for bus transportation. When originally enacted, the state law encouraging regionalization promised 100 percent reimbursement of transportation costs, but districts now receive just over half of those promised funds.
The School Committee will meet again on Wednesday, February 26, to continue the discussion on possible cuts and get closer to a final budget.
(This story includes reporting by Gail Somers-Sun. — Ed.)