SHIRLEY -- The Ayer Shirley Regional School Committee has voted to certify its "level budget plus two" for fiscal 2015.
School Superintendent Carl Mock said that its "level program plus two teachers" reflects the district's tracking of what it needs to do for next year. The two new teacher positions are for a classroom teacher at Page Hilltop Elementary School and a special-education life skills teacher at the high school.
Two of the special-education programs at the high school are "sort of maxed out," said Mock, and the number of students entering the program from the eighth grade will nearly double the number of its students.
"We can't have 23 highly special-needs kids with one teacher," he said.
Mock said there would be three more meetings with town officials before the Ayer Town Meeting on May 12, and then "a meeting or two" between that and the Shirley Town Meeting on June 2.
The committee will hold a public hearing on the budget during the first part of their regularly scheduled April 1 meeting at the Ayer Shirley Regional Middle School.
The committee accepted and approved a fiscal year 2015 budget of $27,828,556, which contains a bottom line general fund of $25,076,510, including net school spending and non-net school spending.
The total assessment to the two towns of $16,529,344 breaks down to $10,380,770 to Ayer, and $6,148,574 to Shirley.
Excluding the high school debt, that comes to a $900,000 increase in the assessment for the operating budget.
In late January the assessment increase was estimated to be $1.263 million, "so we are bringing that down," Mock said. "We had hoped that the (4.8 percent) reduction in health insurance would pay for that special-education teacher, but we have additional special-ed students who will require services, so we have increased tuition and transportation."
"At this point in time, it would be irresponsible if we didn't go with this level of funding," he added.
ASRSD Finance Director Evan Katz said some good news was that on Wednesday, March 12, the state legislature voted to increase local government aid and education aid to cities and towns by $125 million in fiscal year 2015. That unrestricted governmental aid amounts to $32,000 for Shirley, and $18,000 for Ayer, he said.
Katz also said that the district was being awarded $55,000 for its successful application for "pothole" education funds through the state's Foundation Reserve Program.
Mock said the school district went into fiscal year 2013 with fewer dollars than it had in fiscal year 2012. Last year's increase was due to having had to cut special education the previous year, "so this year's increase was to account for that," he said.
"So this is really the first year we are trying to make a little more progress beyond that. Without the high school special-education teacher, we might as well go back and add another $100,000 in special-ed tuition because those kids have to go some place," he said, explaining that the cost for a student to go to a collaborative or out-of-district placement would be at least $50,000.
Next year's calendar
The School Committee also approved its 2014-2015 school event calendar. School Committee Chair Pat Kelly's idea to substitute the district's February and April vacations with one in March fell through when the administration decided that the March vacation would cut too close to the MCAS testing schedule.
School Committee Vice Chairwoman Susan Therriault suggested that, once the new PARCC testing system, which is currently being field tested, is fully in place, it may allow for more flexibility in the schedule.
The committee voted to start the school year for students on Sept. 2, and to make December vacation begin on Dec. 24, with Dec. 23 being an early-release day.
The last day of school will be June 16, with high school exams being pushed back to June 11 and June 12.