by Ann Needle
With increasing pressure from its towns to trim dollars —and not enough agreement on how to do it — the Nashoba School Committee put off a vote on its 2015/16 budget until its next meeting.
The SC met Monday, rather than on the scheduled March 11, due to illness among the administration. Then, according to Superintendent Michael Wood, Nashoba’s regional agreement with its towns called for a final budget by Sunday, March 15, which automatically jumped to the next business day. Wood said he did not think the towns would find this postponement to its March 24 meeting an issue.
After more than two hours of debate Monday, the SC did vote to pass an amended budget by 4-2. (The “no” votes were by Reps. Lynn Colletti of Stow and Lorraine Romasco of Bolton. Stow Rep. Nicole Odekirk was absent.) But, Stow resident Mark Jones then asserted from the audience that, because not all SC members were there, the vote did not count: State law calls for at least two-thirds of the entire SC to approve the budget.
Nashoba administration has been under pressure to cut its proposed $50 million budget, which would be a hike of more than 5% over the current year’s budget. The towns balked at an increase that would have been a stark contrast to the 2% to 3% hikes of the past few years. Before the meeting, the Stow Board of Selectmen submitted its own written protest on the spending plan to Nashoba, citing concern that the 2015/16 budget would force an assessment increase of 7.5%.
Despite a list of more than $1 million in budget cuts Wood submitted to SC members last week — and most were accepted — a few items left some uneasy. But most of the debate centered on whether the district should help the towns out by spending more than planned from its Excess & Deficiency (free cash) account.
The district proposed spending $1 million of its estimated $2.2 million from E&D, something Assistant Superintendent George King noted was current practice for Nashoba. The district has then been able to build the E&D back up to about $2 million by the following year’s budget cycle. King defended the move as staying prepared for unexpected catastrophes, preventing Nashoba from having to ask its towns for more money. (In the list of potential budget revisions, Michael Wood proposed raising E&D spending to $1.2 million.)
Lorraine Romasco asserted that Nashoba had more in free cash than any other regional district in the state. “What are we using the money for, why do we have it? If we had a catastrophic event, I can’t imagine any of the towns saying no to us.” She proposed spending $1.5 million, remarking, “This would not be painful.”
King countered, “In the long run, it has to hurt. We’re just not going to replenish $1.5 million a year.” But, he conceded that the worst-case scenario from spending that money would be the E&D would likely be back up over $1 million next year.
A few of the proposed budget cuts also triggered protests. One of these was to nix the proposed move of the Pompositticut School modular classrooms to a space-strapped Nashoba Regional High School, which would have saved about $80,000. Another was to put off adding four new positions, saving more than $212,000. Two of these positions would be for special education teachers, given administration reported it has experienced an unexpected jump in SPED costs.
“The two things that stand out from our conversations was we need SPED and we need space,” Lynn Colletti remarked.
With the SC agreeing to leave the modular move and the new positions in the budget, George King estimated that pumping E&D spending up to $1.5 million would bring the budget hike down to roughly $4.2%. It also would trim assessments a bit, with Stow’s portion rising about 5%, he added.
When the vote was found to be invalid, Wood pledged to issue another list of potential cuts before the next SC meeting. Maintaining that the current list would directly hurt students and staff, Romasco told the superintendent, “Make them hard for you, too, because these are hard for us.”
High School Late Start Days Approved
The SC unanimously approved Nashoba Regional High School’s proposal to add 12 late-start days to next year’s calendar. These are designed to give teachers some of the planning and assessment time they have requested.
“This is what I’ve heard en masse from teachers, that they need more time to collaborate, to plan,” said NRHS Principal Dr. Parry Graham.
There will be three two-hour delayed starts each quarter, for a total of 12 late starts throughout the year. Graham assured that these have been planned to avoid weeks with holidays and early release days (for professional development), and that the time will not sink NRHS below the minimum number of classroom hours required for the state’s high schools. He added that NRHS still will offer the traditional late starts during mid-term and final exams.
Michael Wood said that the buses on those days will simply switch their high school routes to occur after the elementary school runs, with no extra costs.
“I think this will be a big hit with the students,”commented Lancaster Rep. Julie Fay.