PEPPERELL -- Now it's up to the towns.
The North Middlesex Regional School Committee Thursday night passed a $44,837,082 budget, just over a million dollars above what the district's three member towns adopted for their tax levy.
If Ashby, Pepperell and Townsend do not change that levy -- $43,807,371 -- overrides will be needed to fund the budget.
The School Committee voted 6-1 to approve the budget, which is $1,994,291 less than the district's "needs budget." It also contains $200,000 from the district's excess and efficiency account to reduce assessments to the towns.
The three towns now have 45 days to hold Town Meetings to set an election to vote on overrides, if necessary.
The total override amount needed to fund the budget would be $1,029,711, minus the excess and deficiency offsets. Such a tax hike would cost $56 in Ashby, $43 in Pepperell and $53 in Townsend per $100,000 in property valuation per year, according to North Middlesex Business Manager Julie Surprenant.
The School Committee began by paring down the district's "level services" budget after a marathon session Monday where community members, faculty, administrators and the committee walked through line items one by one.
Superintendent Maureen Marshall, at her last meeting sitting at the table before Joan Landers begins in August, said she took pains to trim the budget while staying committed to core classrooms.
"Horse trading," as it was called by Marshall, was
Along with the excess and deficiency money, other funds were cut from from utilities, unemployment and a paraprofessional position to cut the budget.
School Committee member Arnold Silva said he was "disappointed" that technology leasing and further utility cuts were not addressed. After discussion, he motioned to adopt the budget with $50,000 more in excess and deficiency.
The sole no vote on the budget, committee member Robert Templeton, said he has a problem with the budget because it is "about what we need," and that the committee needs to to be able to articulate what's in and what's out.
"There are a lot of things that I've thought about and contemplated, but the challenge is really in balancing the needs of district and will of voters," said committee Vice Chairman Ken Brown.
A budget that allows for the most voters to vote positively, he said, would be best.
Before the vote was taken, Townsend Selectman Sue Lisio asked for some computations on the financial effects it would have in Townsend. As she talked, the committee crunched the numbers on a $250,000 Townsend household, which would be $132.50, costing about $2.52 per week.
She said that the weekly amount is as much as a cup of coffee, and that both the schools and every house is feeling pain
"The way to do it is one day at a time," she said. "It is something that we're all in together."
Earlier this week, Lisio and the two other Townsend selectmen heard from Town Administrator Andy Sheehan, who said the timing of the vote offers "no luxury" because of its 45-day deadline, so they would be looking for the ballot vote to take place in the last week of August.
A Town Meeting to set the date for an election would have to happen in early or mid-August.
The School Committee is planning to look at athletic fees, another area that they were discussing to bring in revenue, at their Aug. 6 meeting.
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