The Groton Dunstable Regional School Committee certified a “level service” FY15 budget of $35,696,179 at its Wednesday evening meeting, endorsing cuts and raising some fees to reduce the district’s projected deficit to $1.9 million, down from earlier projections that went as high as $2.7 million.
Download a copy of the certified budget.
Working on plans in a number of meetings and workshops over the last month, the committee ended up with a $100,000 cut from the custodial services line item, but shelved an idea to outsource janitorial work. Another $100,000 came from the principals’ supplies and equipment line item that funds school-specific operating equipment. Committee members also voted to reduce the district’s Excess & Deficiency fund by $250,000 and to cut $50,000 from the district’s general athletic budget.
Those cuts, coupled with previous votes to increase the price of hot school lunches by 25 cents, to move the central administration out of the old Prescott School Building, and to reduce regular and special transportation funding by $150,000, added up to a total of $740,713 in cuts.
The certified amount of $35,696,179 generates an assessment of $1.4 million to Groton and $498,245 to Dunstable.
“There are a lot of miles to go before we get from an adopted budget to a funded budget,” warned Committee Member John Giger.
Further school budget cuts are possible if the towns can’t or won’t fund the assessments, but now that the FY’15 budget is certified, it can only be reduced, not increased.
The projected assessment to Groton is in the ballpark of what town leaders said could be provided without asking voters to approve a Proposition 2 1/2 override.
At a joint Meeting of Groton Selectmen, Finance Committee, and the School Committee meeting on Tuesday, March 4, Town Manager Mark Haddad said that Groton could conceivably free up $1.4 million for the school budget without a general override. The number was conditional though — it depends on the town making cuts to the municipal side of the budget to create additional financial “room” under the levy limit, using all existing levy capacity, getting Town Meeting approval to rescind some already-approved expenditures, and persuading voters to shift funding for the construction of the town’s new fire station from the annual budget to a debt exclusion.
The fire station funding requires a townwide vote scheduled for Tuesday, April 1. (Town Clerk Michael Bouchard announced that the registration deadline for new votes for the special election is Wednesday, March 12, and also that absentee ballots for the election are available at his Town Hall office. — Ed.)
Interim Superintendent Tony Bent said he still considered this budget a “level service” budget, even with the reductions. According to Bent, the reduction in the custodial services budget will not require the district to investigate use of an outside contractor, as was previously proposed. Building Supervisor Steven Burns said that two upcoming retirements and “impact bargaining” with the facilities workers’ union will allow the department to absorb the cut while keeping the same standard of cleanliness in the school buildings.
Giger said he was relieved that the custodial services would not be outsourced. “I have a lot of reservations about when we would receive the return on going outside. I think the custodial resources we have right now take great pride in the building and that’s a hard thing to build with contract personnel. I would rather put my dollar on the sure thing, instead of take a gamble.”
The reduction in the principals’ supplies and equipment line item was supported by the principals themselves, as long as the reduction is a one-year hit and will be restored in the FY’16 budget, according to Bent. “They need the money, but the principals, who are wonderful, have their values in the right place. They realize that $100,000 is potentially two teachers’ salaries,” he said.
However, they were also counting on the continued support of the parent-teacher groups that already provide additional resources for needed classroom equipment, he said.
The committee also voted to remove $50,000 from the general athletic budget. Coupled with increased athletics fees, a consistent deficit problem in the athletic revolving account should also be resolved — the FY14 athletic revolving account has a $66,000 deficit.
Committee members expect that money will be made up by increasing athletic fees by $100 per participant and increasing the “family cap” to $1,500. Additional fees will hit several expensive sports: an extra $100 ice fee will be assessed to all hockey team participants and a $100 mountain usage fee for ski club participants. The number of games played in a season could also decline.
Several audience members commented that the budget reduction document on the district’s website is causing confusion with parents who don’t understand which budget cuts are truly under consideration. Two options in particular, one that increases class sizes and one that closes Swallow Union, were not adopted, or even discussed in detail, for the FY’15 budget that was certified on Tuesday night. That document has apparently been removed from the school district website.
The 2015 budget that was certified is being double and triple checked before being released to the public, Giger said on Friday afternoon, but public copies may be available on Monday (A copy was released on Friday evening and is available from a link at the top of the article. — Ed.) Giger is one of several committee members who will meet with several Finance Committee members for a discussion and review of the budget Monday evening. He said that he thought several future year projections would be developed from the 2015 document, once it has been verified, a request that has been made repeatedly by a number of Groton selectmen and Finance Committee members.
If Groton approves the change in its fire station financing on April 1, the next decision points in the school budget process will be an endorsement or denial by Groton and Dunstable spring Town Meetings — Monday, April 28 for Groton and Monday, May 12 for Dunstable.
“The reduction scenarios out there are very important for people to understand. The committee, as you will hear tonight, is not interested in invoking any of those,” School Committee Member Jim Frey said. “But if we are lacking appropriate funding to move forward with the recommended budget we have to know what our options are in closing that gap.”