TOWNSEND -- A new budget for the North Middlesex Regional School District is due today.
Expected to vote Thursday or this morning, the School Committee did go through its revised budget at a five-plus-hour meeting Monday night. A $45,137,082 budget, referred to as a level-services budget, was used in the budget discussions that night. School Committee Chair Susan Robbins said the group would most likely consider a number close to that.
According to Superintendent Maureen Marshall, the level-services budget would fund staffing patterns to provide services comparable to the 2011-2012 school year, which had a bottom line of $43,318,684.
The next step is for selectmen in Pepperell, Ashby and Townsend to schedule a ballot vote on an override within 45 days if it is needed to fund the budget.
"Any reductions to staff patterns would be a serious detriment to quality of education in this district," Marshall said.
She said cuts are currently causing remaining administrators and teachers to shoulder Herculean tasks.
"It's important to recognize concessions that have been made due to cuts, but we will continue to work with towns and selectboards," she said.
During the line-by-line walkthroughs, increases are expected in the superintendent and assistant superintendent salaries, as incoming Superintendent Joan Landers will not be shared between two districts, as Marshall was with Quabbin.
Varnum Brook Elementary Principal Pauline Cormier
"I've been seeing the same names for a lot of years. I think the lack of special-needs staffing has caused this," Cormier said. "I need to provide resources."
Ashby Elementary had the highest cost increase, up 17 percent. Its budget called for three new teachers due to enrollment increases, explained Principal Anne Cromwell-Gapp.
Class-size parity is an issue in the district.
"Ashby goes unscathed, Pepperell gets beat up," said Pepperell resident Alan Leao. "Dr. Cormier is talking major issues."
The problem arises due to population, explained Superintendent Marshall. If Ashby has a class of 35, it is split to 17 and 18, she said, whereas Pepperell may have to deal with a manageable 25 to 29 because of budget constraints.
U.S. Department of Education Jobs funding, which helps pay teachers salaries, is drying up, too, and Ashby Elementary has budgeted to pay for those, as have Nissitissit and Hawthorne Brook middle schools.
Negative residual effects, said Spaulding Elementary Principal Becky Janda, are going to come with the level services.
"We've lost so much, and everything in there impacts students, wherever we take it from, it's going to have those effects on them," she said. "But this is our job and we work for you. Tell us what it will be and we'll make it work."
While introducing the budget, Marshall discussed budget changes since 2008: 2009 saw a 3 percent reduction in funding, 2010 was a two percent reduction and 2011, a 4 percent reduction. Last year, the budget increased 1 percent and the proposed budget would be a 4 percent increase.
Marshall went on to attempt to dispel rumors and complaints she had heard, including those about salaries. In 2011, she said, the district's are less than many in the area, averaging $66,248.
This number was far below a group of schools located in the surrounding area such as Harvard, at $79,461, Shrewsbury, at 72,532 and Nashoba Tech, at $70,520, according to numbers she presented.
"People have a lot of difficulty comparing with some of these towns. You beat the drum that you're underfunding the school, but there are schools funded the same as us and are top 10 schools," said Leao.
Chapter 70 moneys is another reason for the increase since funding from the commonwealth that offsets assessments has declined, she said. In 2003, 63 percent of the school's budget came from Chapter 70, and the next year, declines began. By fiscal 2007, it was 53.6 percent Chapter 70 funded, in fiscal 2012, it dropped to 50.8 percent.
Marshall said Assistant Superintendent Deborah Brady had recieved preliminary MCAS results and that the grades are substantive and positive in language arts and math.
"It's been a tough year, but we've made changes in our techniques and those seem to be working," she said. "Our principals' hard work is working."
An area where the elementary and middle schools are able to save from fiscal 2012 is in textbook costs because "Envisions" course books were a one-time purchase last year, saving $52,676 at Spaulding Elementary, $65,495 at Varnum and $21,099 at Hawthorne.
After the last budget failed to achieve funding through the override, the Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education authorized a budget of $3,609,890 for July, one-twelfth of the fiscal 2012 budget. That authorization will continue until district communities appropriate an approved fiscal 2013 budget or until Dec. 1.
Upon meeting that deadline, according to Marshall, the DESE will come in and analyze past years' budgets and make assessments to determine a budget to be adopted by the district.
Follow Luke at twitter.com/lsnashobapub.