GROTON -- The Finance Committee decided not to oppose a plan by Town Manager Mark Haddad to come up with $1.4 million in additional tax revenue to help the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District out of an imbalance in its budget for fiscal 2015.
The choices were not good ones for the committee after a warning by Haddad at an earlier selectmen's meeting, when he said the schools would face crippling cuts in spending if Groton and Dunstable did not come up with the needed funds.
The district's problems began July 13 when the approved school-operating budget for that year stood at $35,200,000 until a review revealed that total obligations by the district actually came to $36,204,212.
Initial cuts were able to eliminate the shortfall for that year and 2014, but since the initial problem with the budget had a rollover effect in subsequent years, a major problem remained for 2015 in which the shortfall had exploded to $2.7 million.
Spending cuts were made and Groton and Dunstable were asked to make up the difference, which for Groton meant coming up with $1.4 million.
Haddad has proposed a combination of cuts in planned municipal spending and use of the town's unexpended tax levy that would be boosted by removing payments for the new Center Fire Station from the levy to a debt exclusion.
If the plan worked, Groton could raise the money needed to meet the district's needs and the tax rate for property owners would rise to $18.41 per $1,000 of valuation, for an average increase of $412 a year.
In the meantime, the School Committee voted to adopt a budget for 2015 of $35,696,179, cutting $740,000 in spending.
The Finance Committee still wanted to see an itemized school budget and multi-year spending projections so that planning for the future could be done.
Other concerns about the school budget included the district's ability to move allocated funds from one line item to another and not having them dedicated as in the town's budget.
For outsiders trying to understand the schools' budget, Committee Chairman Jay Prager, said the district's finances were "incoherent."
Members hoped more would be known about the budget in 2016, when other spending cuts might be suggested.
Such cuts may prove critical as the town's scheme to help the schools this year pushes its unexpended tax revenue known as the levy limit, to the point where there is no room for error.
In that case, Haddad warned at a selectmen's meeting Monday, it was likely the district could return next year with the need for a Proposition 2 1/2 override to meet rising costs.