AYER --"It is looking better that we will be able to settle our budget by July 1," said Ayer Shirley Regional School Committee Vice Chair Pat Kelly Tuesday night, referring to the deadline by which the committee must approve its budget before the state gets involved.
Ayer Shirley Superintendent of Schools Carl Mock had just presented revised estimates of the fiscal 2014 school assessments for Ayer and Shirley that came from the House and Senate budgets.
"These are estimates only, and not yet widely publicized," Mock emphasized as he went over the figures.
The bottom line of the school budget would not really change, he said, "but roughly speaking, the Senate version had an increase in the Ayer Required Local Contribution (RLC) of about $260,000, and a decrease in Shirley's of about $98,000." The House version was close to that: Ayer's increase is $250,000, and Shirley's decrease is $87,000.
The original assessments proposed by the school district were $8,820,133 for Ayer, and $5,505,590 for Shirley. Both assessments were rejected at the towns' annual Town Meetings last month, at the request of the School Committee. The committee's strategy was to wait until the House and Senate budgets were released, with tweaks in the new RLC formula that had led to a large increase in Shirley's assessment.
Mock presented a copy of the estimates that are based on the Senate version of the assessments, with a $150,118 increase in the Ayer assessment, and a $144,528 reduction in Shirley's.
The numbers reflect a $190,200 decrease in Shirley's RLC and a $260,00 increase in Ayer's. Net School Spending above RLC , however, is reduced for Ayer by nearly $210,000. For Shirley, NSS>RLC is reduced by about $152,000.
"So the total $794,606 (increase over the total FY13 school budget) is the same, but the Ayer side, not including excluded debt, would increase by $150,118," said Mock.
This would bring Shirley's increased assessment over last year's down from the originally proposed $555,590 to $405,472. Ayer's increase would rise from $239,016 to $389,134.
Mock said the Shirley increase was now down to a $56,000 difference between the new increase and that which Shirley had already voted on when it approved the lower $5.3 million Shirley share of the school budget at Town Meeting, nearly $206,000 less than was requested.
"On the Ayer side the number we gave them was too low. They had planned for about a $10,000 increase and this would be about $55,000 more than that," he said.
Mock said Ayer selectmen have scheduled Ayer's Special Town Meeting to vote on the school assessment for Monday, June 24.
Shirley's is scheduled for Wednesday, June 26.
"So we are on schedule much as we thought it would be at our last meeting," Mock said.
With Shirley having voted to increase its assessment by only $350,000 over the previous year, the town is still more than $155,000 shy of the newly estimated assessment. Ayer is $150,118 shy of the assessment, bringing the total shortfall of the newly estimated assessments to $206,118.
Mock said the committee would need to get the new figures to Ayer by noon Thursday. Unless the School Committee were to recertify its budget, something it already did once after the two towns rejected its initial budget request, the procedure, said Mock, would be for the committee to make an amendment for the new totals on the floor at each town meeting and proceed from there.
"This seems to be generally accepted at this point in time," Mock stated.
"This is the assessment number that Town Meeting has complete control over so it can be amended and voted on," said Kelly.
"There is nothing that precludes the School Committee from taking action but nothing that guarantees that," said Mock. "The moderator could put that number on and want a vote on that number alone, but we have a good working relationship and they understand why this is the way it happened."
As soon as he got the updated figures the previous day, he had forwarded them to the Ayer and Shirley finance committees and mentioned them to the Shirley selectmen.
"The Shirley Board of Selectmen were told last night that we had the estimates and that it was a swing of some magnitude," he said.
Shirley Finance Committee Vice Chair Mike Swanton cautioned that he had not yet had a chance to discuss the new figures with the rest of his committee, and suggested that the $350,000 increase already recommended by the Finance Committee and voted on at Town Meeting may be as far as the town can go given the town's finances and pending override votes. The committee will meet Monday night to discuss the issue.