TOWNSEND -- The North Middlesex School District Committee is planning to vote on a revised budget next week.
A district budget is due to Pepperell, Ashby and Townsend selectmen on July 20 -- 30 days after a June 21 override vote to fund the previously approved budget was rejected by the three towns. The regional School Committee decided Monday to vote on Thursday, July 19 following a line-by-line budget forum posted for next Monday. Both meetings begin at 6 p.m.
The "needs budget" was defeated June 21 and, according to School Committee Chairwoman Susan Robbins, over half the override was simply to prevent cuts to the system.
Of the other two discussed Monday, one is called "level services." That budget is is $1,698,522 less than the "needs" amount and is required to keep staffing where it was during fiscal 2012.
The other is termed "level funded," and is $3,206,642 below "needs." This budget would be funded equally to the fiscal 2012 budget amount.
According to Robbins, each year the district is underfunded, the problem will compound itself.
"I am not anxious to jump right to level services. There are needs for this district, and they are not going to go away just because we didn't do it this year," she said.
Line-by-line analysis is something that has already been done, said School Committee Vice Chairman Ken Brown. The "needs" budget is what the committee already voted on, so they need to be "real careful about messaging."
Robbins said the level-funded budget is "obviously destructive to our school system." Fewer teachers and specialists would lead to fewer special courses like foreign languages, music and art, and it would result in increased class sizes, she said.
Another possiblility would be an added cost to the unemployment line item, due to teachers being laid off, according to Superintendent of Schools Maureen Marshall. She went on to say she strongly urges the committee to look at level services, adding that an override would be needed even to pay for the "level funded" budget, caused by losses in state and federal aid.
In talking to voters after June 21, School Committee member Michael Morgan said he found some of the reasons they voted no discouraging, and that the School Committee may not have done enough to explain the needs of the district.
Morgan said he was hearing "pretty far-fetched things" that "people hold and run with" as a result of them not being informed.
Pepperell's Anne Adams agreed, saying the committee has "got to be able to sell" the budget and must treat taxpayer dollars with "the same respect that they do at their own homes."
Using email notices, Marshall said she would try as best she could to get the word out about next Monday's meeting, but said she is open to other strategies for outreach.
"We don't have anything to hide," Marshall said.
Robbins also said she would be open to "any advice to get more ears on that process."
But the failed vote, Pepperell Selectman Joe Sergi said, is something to take into consideration while bringing another budget to the ballot. He said, speaking as an individual selectman, that people "want to see a budget they can get their arms around and be confident with."
After the June 21 override failed, the state's commissioner of elementary and secondary education authorized a budget of $3,609,890 per month, one-12th of the fiscal 2012 budget. Member communities must appropriate and pay assessments based on this interim budget and the district must adhere to the monthly amounts until a fiscal 2013 budget is adopted or until Dec. 1.
The communities' payments under the interim budget will be deducted from the total fiscal 13 assessment charged with an fiscal 13 budget is finalized. Upon meeting the Dec. 1 cutoff, according to Marshall, the DESE will come in and analyze past years' budgets and make assessments to determine a budget to be adopted.
The communities payments under the interim budget will be deducted from the total FY13 assessment charged with an FY13 budget is finalized. Upon meeting the Dec. 1 cutoff, according to Marshall, the DESE will come in and analyze past years budgets and make assessments to determine a budget to be adopted.
Townsend Selectmen heard a report on the issue from Town Administrator Andy Sheehan last week.
"It's not unusual for a regional district to get in the situation we're in now," he said. "It is what it is."
Ultimately, the school committee's decision would require another town meeting and ballot question if the district asks for more than the $198,000 over fiscal year 2012 that was allotted at the spring town meeting, Sheehan added.