By Katina Caraganis
TOWNSEND -- The North Middlesex Regional School Committee certified an operating budget of $45,034,706 for fiscal 2013, less than half of 1 percent above the current operating budget, according to School Committee Chairwoman Susan Robbins.
The budget previously was presented to the public at a budget hearing, but no concerns were raised by those in attendance. The district's finance subcommittee had authorized Superintendent of Schools Joan Landers to balance the budget with money from the reserve account if needed.
As certified, the budget includes $200,000 from the reserve account, but Landers had the authorization to use double that if she needed to.
The finance subcommittee had asked Landers to do that if it helped keep Pepperell's assessment of the budget relatively low after the town's target share from the state increased dramatically -- to almost half a million dollars.
To do that, major reductions were utilized, including:
* Eliminating one high-school administrator.
* Eliminating one IT staff position.
* Reducing out-of-district placements.
* Eliminating the assistant-superintendent position and replacing it with a director of curriculum.
* Eliminating coach stipends.
* Reducing vehicle leases.
* Reducing transportation for homeless students.
* Allocating the circuit-breaker grant for special-education students for out-of-district placements.
"We were fortunate that health insurance and some other numbers that are typically higher came in low this year, which helped," Robbins said Tuesday afternoon. "We did make a few adjustments, both removing and adding things. We were fortunate we were able to create in-district programs for special-education needs so we can not only keep kids in our community but also not have the out-of-district placement tuitions."
Despite the apparently seamless process the committee went through to finalize its budget, Robbins said it's never good to get too confident when approaching the budget.
"As soon as you get confident, that's when you get in trouble," she said. "The economic environment will continue to be challenging. I think we got a few breaks this year with the health insurance and stuff."
She said it was imperative that she and the other committee members keep in mind Pepperell and the impact a substantial budget increase would have on the town.
Follow Katina Caraganis on Twitter @kcaraganis.