GROTON -- Half-way home in getting their fiscal house in order, members of the Groton-Dunstable Regional School Committee continued to balance its books with a vote to empty out the district's excess and deficiencies account to be paid to fiscal year 2014.
The vote followed on the heels of passage of the district's budget for fiscal 2015 at Town Meeting on April 28.
There, residents approved the town's share of the schools' fiscal 2015 budget of $17,756,023, including $1.4 million as the town's portion of an extra $1.9 million needed to cover an accounting error that resulted in a spending shortfall for this and subsequent years.
Cuts in spending and various revenue sources enabled school officials to balance the fiscal year 2013 budget while further cuts chipped away at the budget for 2014 bringing it within range of being squared away by use of the excess and deficiencies account.
The excess and deficiencies account is made up of money from the regular school budget that for one reason or another ended up unspent. State law allows schools to hold onto a minimum percentage of the unused cash in a special account that can be used for unplanned expenditures or emergencies.
In past weeks, the district has used funds from the account to help balance its books in the shortfall crisis but business and finance director Jared Stanton recommended to the School Committee at its meeting of April 30 to apply the remaining $613,533 to the fiscal 2014 budget to end the imbalance for that year.
Approving the move, the School Committee's vote had the effect of raising the budget for fiscal 2014 to $35,814,533; something forbidden by law once a budget has been certified.
However, an increase is allowed if the Board of Selectmen approve the transfer.
Stanton said that by law, the money remaining in the excess and deficiencies account would need to be reduced to zero at the end of the current fiscal year anyway so that transfer would not harm the district's financial standing.
More money could then be deposited into the account in the future.
With the committee's vote of approval, the books for 2013 and 2014 can finally be closed. In the meantime, however, all eyes are turned to Dunstable, where residents will have the opportunity to vote on its share of the school budget for fiscal 2015, including an added $498,956 needed to cover the year's shortfall.
The good news for the district, according to member James Frey, was that town officials in Dunstable are now behind the shortfall coverage and will recommend it to Town Meeting scheduled for May 12.
Related to the budget crisis, School Committee members also heard from auditors who confirmed that the budget for fiscal 2013 has been squared away with a confirmed $165,615 shortfall paid off.
In the normal course of events, summed up accountant Frank Biron, such a shortfall "was not supposed to happen."
Finally, School Committee members voted to approve a job description for the position of assistant superintendent that included an increase in annual salary from $105,000 to $120,000.
The increase was deemed necessary to attract qualified candidates who, according to the job description, will need to be familiar with budgeting and be able to make spending projections many years down the road.
The hike in pay was also needed because it was believed that more money elsewhere was one of the reasons why current assistant superintendent Kerry Clery chose to take a similar position in another school district.
"We want to get someone of Kerry Clery's capacity," said interim Superintendent Anthony Bent.
When asked if there was sufficient time to conduct a proper search for candidates before the start of the new fiscal year on July 1, incoming superintendent Kristan Rodriguez said she is "optimistic" that there is.