AYER/SHIRLEY -- Ayer Shirley Regional School District Finance Director Evan Katz informed the school committee Tuesday night that there have been no significant changes in the district's fiscal 2014 budget since the committee's budget vote last spring.

Since then, he said, the district had completed its negotiations with the teachers' union, the state budget had been resolved and there have been new hires. In addition, the district had since closed some of its revolving funds, including those of its extended day programs.

"There's been no real change in general fund revenue and expenditures; we're just moving some things around," he said of the impending school committee vote to transfer funds.

The total ASRSD fiscal 2014 general fund budget of $25,657,034 is only about a $10,000 change from September, when the committee last approved it, he added.

The committee's vote was mainly to reallocate funds for new hires and special education.

"There was some staff turnover, so there was more savings in some schools and departments than others, and we had to do some new hiring," Katz explained.

Budget increases reflect reality

The $31,000 budget increase for substitute teachers, largely at the high school, generated the most discussion.

That's a pretty big increase," remarked school committee member Joyce Reischutz. "I'm wondering what causes such a big increase."

Katz replied that the new school district's fiscal 2012 budget was theoretical, and that the fiscal 2013 budget was determined before fiscal 2012 had ended.

"We only had one year completed when we did the fiscal year '13 budget," he said. "Now we saw the true need and we saw a higher level (need for substitute teachers) than we had thought. This is the first budget we've done with actual knowledge of the expenditures."

The $20,000 increase for substitutes at the high school could pay for just one or two long-term situations, he explained.

"We have about 150 teachers, so we just know based on experience now that the $120,000 (previously budgeted) is going to be low," he said.

"To this point this year, we are doing better than we did last year," remarked school superintendent Carl Mock, "but we may have a couple of situations on the horizon that may use a chunk of that money."

He added that the substitute line item had been on the rise for the past couple of years, and that he has raised the issue of the number of substitutes required with the staff.

Other areas of concern

Katz said that although "things are much more stable than last year," there are four major budget issues of concern.

One is that the facilities budget may not be sufficient due to unexpected maintenance. Some are related to the moves necessary due to the high school building renovation. Others are due to increased security costs and the need for a new lawn mower at the high school.

But a major issue, said Mock, is that two steam pipes at Page Hilltop Elementary School that are located under the cement slab are leaking. One affects two classrooms, where the teachers are using space heaters, and another affects the business office.

"Those issues must be fixed," he said.

Another maintenance problem is a frozen pipe in the middle-school kitchen that was caused by years of inadequate damper operation.

"I'm feeling lately like the little Dutch boy putting a number of fingers in the dike," Mock sighed.

Secondly, Katz cautioned that, although currently there are sufficient funds for special education staff and transportation, the issue is "very volatile and expensive," as programs must be adjusted to accommodate students coming into the district.

Katz also said that charter school tuition for Ayer and Shirley students is slightly over budget due to higher than projected enrollment, which means that tuition reimbursement will be less.

Awaiting the data

Another item causing some consternation is that the official Department of Elementary and Secondary Education enrollment figures have not yet been officially released. 

Mock said that the preliminary raw data he saw earlier in the day was not encouraging, but that the detailed figures would not be released for at least another week.

"This is one we will have to come back to next month," he said, adding that he hopes the actual data is more in line with the figures budgeted by the district.

Although the district knows how many students have moved from the district into charter schools, it does not yet know how many Ayer and Shirley residents are enrolled in other public school districts.

The current fiscal 2014 school budget is based on a projected $370,136 reduction in tuition as compared to the previous year, paid for Ayer and Shirley students opting to attend schools elsewhere. In addition, the district has only about $500,000 in general fund reserves.

"Given how we are trying to build the physical plant and education, that is lower than I would recommend for a district of our size," Katz concluded.

The committee unanimously approved the recommended transfers of funds, leaving the ASRSD budget's general fund total for fiscal 2014 at $25,657,034.