GROTON -- Groton-Dunstable Regional School Committee members continue to crunch the numbers in an effort to sculpt the school budget into something acceptable to Groton and Dunstable fiscal officers as well as voters.
Still reeling from a discrepancy in their budget that has thrown it out of balance by millions of dollars, School Committee members have spent the last several months trying to find ways to bring it under control and defend a $1.9 million increase for fiscal 2015 needed to make up the shortfall.
The shortfall itself was discovered late last year, when it was shown that the approved school operating budget for fiscal 2013 stood at $35,200,000 while total obligations by the district came to $36,204,212.
Initial cuts were able to eliminate the shortfall for that year while further efforts, including more cuts and new sources of revenue, were able to reduce the shortfall for 2014 to $464,485.
But since the initial problem with the budget had a rollover effect in subsequent years, a major problem remained for 2015.
For that year, according to the district's proposed budget, Groton is to be assessed $1.4 million and Dunstable an estimated $600,000 over their assessments in fiscal 2014.
The bottom line for the district's proposed budget for fiscal 2015 comes to $35,696,179.
At a meeting of the Budget and Finance Subcommittee held March 25, School Committee members met with business and finance director Jared Stanton to review budget numbers beginning with 2014.
For that year, Stanton reported that due to more state aid than expected and lower insurance costs, the deficit for 2014 has been reduced to $330,000.
"Looks like we can bring it within range of closing it ourselves," said an optimistic subcommittee Chairman James Frey of balancing the books for this year.
Looking to the future, something that town officials including selectmen and members of the Finance Committee have asked to see for better planning, Stanton presented a timeline that projected school spending to 2018.
Although it was cautioned that those numbers were not final, they did predict costs to rise at a steady rate despite shrinking enrollment.
On the local front, Frey, Dunstable's representative on the School Committee, reported that his town was unlikely to meet its share of increased spending for 2015 without an override.
According to Frey, unlike Groton, the smaller town does not have enough spare tax levy capacity to cover the full amount. If the town scraped funds from every available source, it might raise $250,000, but the rest would have to come from an override.
For that reason, town officials have asked the district to work with them to reduce the requested amount so that if an override becomes necessary, the amount asked of taxpayers could be as small as possible.
An override has also been discussed in Groton should voters turn down a plan proposed by Town Manager Mark Haddad to alter the payment method for the town's new Center Fire Station, making it a debt exclusion. Doing so would free up more of the tax levy for use by the schools.
However, if residents reject the scheme, the only alternative would be to seek the funds by way of an override.
Meanwhile, subcommittee members expected to meet with the School Committee as a whole on March 26 to discuss the current state of the budget, including firm spending projections covering the next few years.