TOWNSEND -- In their first meeting since the district-wide defeat of the June 21 Proposition 2 1/2 override, the North Middlesex Regional School Committee laid out its plans moving forward.
Its last budget request, a $46,831,373 "needs" budget required Proposition 2 1/2 overrides totaling $3,528,543. Those failed at polls in three towns on June 21; across the district 66.5 percent of voters voted no. Next, under a state statute governing regional school districts, the School Committee has 30 days to submit new assessments, after which the towns have 45 days to act.
School Finance Subcommittee Chairman Ken Brown, with that subcommittee's support, requested that Superintendent of Schools Maureen Marshall design budget scenarios that consider level services and level-funded budgeting options.
According to Marshall, level services are a cut of $1.6 million to the needs budget of the committee most recently approved. The level funded, she said, is a $3.5 million cut to that.
So far, the amount that has been approved, Marshall said, is $3.38 million below the needs budget.
"We need to understand the differences between the levels. We would like to see what areas we would look for to cuts to make up that $3.5 million (in the level-funded scenario)," Brown said.
Subcommittee member Sue Robbins said the committee knows what positions would be restored with needs, but not those that would be removed with smaller budgets.
"We should assess what a level-funded budget would look like and talk to the towns, but I am not a proponent of jumping to a decision," she said.
Marshall said there is no way to do that without a goal to drive resources toward the big four subjects.
"ELA, science, math and social studies, there is no other way," she said. "For you to imagine in some way to allow us to have the variety of coursed presently pre-K to Grade 12 would be hard, because we would have to meet the core requirements."
Marshall said she had gotten started on the level-funded budget considerations and was in talks as early as Friday, the day after the vote, and spending a good deal of time on it early this week.
"We have three levels to look at. We need to get a sense of level services and level-funded," Brown said. Brown added, "Though I am not sitting here saying we need to go in that direction."
Beginning July 1 until an agreement is reached, the school will receive 1/12 of their fiscal 2012 budget, Marshall said, although that number will not be officially determined until sometime next week.
Funding is required for bills over the summer, but in September, school-year staffing would be needed and Robbins said a plan for that staffing pattern is being looked at.
If a budget isn't passed by Dec. 1, the Commissioner of Education will come into the district and, with the aid of the Department of Revenue and Department of Secondary and Elementary Education, establish a district budget.
"They would then look at past assessment info, budgets, about a three- or four-year look-back over time and create a budget to be approved," she said.
Robbins said there were some misconceptions regarding the vote. At the pools, Townsend voted 576-1,306, Pepperell voted 691-1,155 and Ashby voted 189-430.
"The results are extremely disappointing," she said. "The vote did not concern construction projects or renovations, this was strictly an operational override."
She went on to say that 55 percent of the override was going toward preventing cuts.
Around 10 people were at the onset of the subcommittee meeting at 6 p.m. During public comment, Pepperell Town Administrator John Moak said that tax levies are near capacity.
"Whenever we go beyond this, we have to look at override, 94 percent of all our money is from new growth and 2.5 percent taxes went to the schools," Moak said. "Six percent of new growth went towards town government, plus, 65 percent to 68 percent of entire budget for our schools."
By 7 p.m., when the School Committee meeting began, the auditorium was filled with about 75 people, residents of Townsend, Ashby and Pepperell as well as State Rep. Shiela Harrington and State Sen. Eileen Donoghue.
"I know my office has heard from people in district with a lot of conern about issues," Donoghue said. "On the state level, we want to listen and offer assistance to the extent we can."
An array of concerns from residents on both sides of the vote came out. Several residents requested a more positive message going forward.
"Please dont focus on trying to get no voters to vote yes," said Pepperell's Matt Nesbit. "Please give the yes voters something to come out for, something to vote yes for and something to support."
Another issue one resident brought up was School Committee visibility and voter education during the override process.
Marshall said campaign finance regulations prevent teachers and administrators from campaigning.
"But many of our parents have done a hurculean effort," she said.
Brown applauded the parents too, adding that "this committee has been in something like 50 to 60 meetings."
"I am not going to let our education system fail, I am proud to be apart of this community," Robbins said.
Luke Steere writes for Nashoba Publishing. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/LSNashobaPub.