SHIRLEY -- Town Administrator Patrice Garvin told selectmen Monday night that the Ayer-Shirley Regional School District's latest draft budget and anticipated assessments for the next fiscal year could pose a big problem for the town.
Aired at a recent School Committee meeting she attended, the district's preliminary budget estimate for FY 2015 shows a 10.9 percent hike over last year's assessment, Garvin said, more than twice the 4.88 percent increase built into the town budget for the purpose.
Reportedly, the biggest cost drivers in the school budget are personnel salaries, employee health insurance and School Choice.
That would be choice out. Under the state School Choice program, fixed per pupil costs for students to attend public school districts other than their own are deducted from the sending district's state aid and paid to the receiving district. Choice works both ways, but in this instance the choice-in, choice-out balance tips toward the minus side.
But according to Garvin, the district added new positions, while the town did not.
ASRSD Superintendent Carl Mock, speaking at the School Committee meeting last week, acknowledged that the fledgling district's needs for the last two years have been outdistancing the towns' ability to pay.
This year's school operating budget, for example, at least at the preliminary stage, totals $28,145,270, which translates to $15,512,583 for assessment purposes once plus-side figures are deducted, including state aid, grants, choice-in and other revenue.
In the current proposal, Shirley's assessment would be $5,912,367, which is $581,014 more than the town paid last year.
As for the new positions, Mock indicated that they were penciled in based in part on leadership team requests for added resources that totaled $1.8 million more than last year.
Given that Shirley's municipal operating budget shows a deficit for fiscal 2015, Garvin said she couldn't envision where the added revenue would come from to pay a higher school assessment, which was basically what she told the School Committee.
Making matters worse, school-related expenses will also increase property taxes in Ayer and Shirley next year as debt payments for the ongoing high school renovation and addition project kick in via debt exclusions previously voted in by both member towns.
Shirley's building project assessment for FY2015 comes to $378,457, while Ayer's share is $1,015,018. As a "debt excluded" amount, taxes in the two member districts will go up by formula for the loan period. However, due to a deal that shifts some of the burden for existing middle school debt to Ayer, Shirley's pay-in will be offset some by funds set aside in a dedicated stabilization account administered by the school district.
Selectman David Swain said the school district needs to take a serious second look at its budget, especially those new jobs. "I call it a wish list...pie in the sky," he said. "The town can't afford it."