SHIRLEY -- At their meeting Monday night, selectmen agreed to ask the assessors to turn over $31,000 in overlay account surplus, a three-year nest egg that is now about $40,000.
The purpose: To close a gap of that amount between the upped Ayer-Shirley Regional School District assessment Town Meeting agreed to pay -- $350,000 over last year -- and the increase that the School Committee approved last week.
Superintendent Carl Mock told the selectmen last week that the final figure would be mitigated by the revised required local contribution (RLC) amounts expected to come out of the House and Senate budgets, which are now being reviewed by the Conference Committee. Ayer's would be higher and Shirley's lower, he said.
However, he cautioned that the School Committee probably couldn't lower its assessment increase to meet Shirley's $350,000 benchmark, since doing so would translate to $175,000 worth of cuts in an already pared-down school budget.
Although still higher than the selectmen had hoped it would be, the assessment increase now is less than the worst-case assessment increase, which originally stood at $550,000.
Tapping the overlay surplus was one of three possibilities Selectman David Swain sketched out when Chairman Kendra Dumont asked where the added money would come from to pay the full school assessment.
The second option would be to take the money from the Stabilization Fund, which would require a two-thirds vote at Town Meeting that none of the selectmen favor.
The third option would be to go for a $31,000 Proposition two and a half tax override, which Swain predicted would have little chance of passing.
In the latter case, a no vote at the polls would amount to a rejection of the school assessment, triggering the super town meeting process, Swain continued. He sketched a no-win situation in which the outcome would be basically the same as approving the assessment in the first place, plus the cost of the override election. Better to say yes now and come up with the additional money, he said.
But Swain cautioned against repeating the cycle in coming years. "In the future, we can't continue with seven percent School Department increases, he said. "I suggest we limit them to $121,000 increases based on our RLC uptick, plus two and a half percent," he said.
The board voted two-to-one to ask the assessors for the money.
Dumont voted no. "I think it's just another poor practice," she said, opining that drawing funds from a one-time source is still "just kicking the can down the road."
The assessment is the only article on the warrant voters will be asked to consider at the Special Town Meeting Wednesday night.