AYER/SHIRLEY -- One day after Ayer Town Meeting voted not to approve the Ayer-Shirley Regional School Committee's $22,997,118 budget, at its request, the School Committee unanimously voted to recertify its budget for the same amount.
The vote was necessary as part of the district's strategy to have each member town essentially table the school budget until after the state budget is closer to being resolved.
The recently passed House budget does not include the governor's proposed required local contribution (RLC) formula changes and accelerated implementation schedule, which have wreaked havoc on the town of Shirley's assessment, increasing it by over $260,000 for fiscal 2014.
The towns' assessments may end up being lower depending upon the outcome of the House-Senate conference committee plan that will eventually be approved by the House and Senate before being sent to Gov. Deval Patrick by July 1. The Senate is scheduled to complete its own state budget plan by the end of May.
Committee Vice Chairman Pat Kelly said that, although the House budget modified the RLC changes, it has still not yet released its numbers. Once those numbers change, he said, the RLC numbers are likely to change, and that impacts net school spending (NSS) above the RLC.
"Those two numbers become the majority of the assessment for each community, so we need to hear more from the state and talk more with town leaders to determine the budget," he explained.
According to Chapter 71, section 16(B) of the Massachusetts General Laws, the committee has seven days from the date of the budget's recertification to resubmit it to the two towns' boards of selectmen and finance committees. Within 45 days, the towns must hold a meeting to act upon the appropriation of the recertified budget, which may be lower than but not higher than that certified by the committee.
"If there is no settled budget for the regional School Committee by July 1, then the chair of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will determine the assessment, which will not be below the fiscal 2013 budget and may be higher, and the towns would have no say," explained Kelly. "We now have the ability for the towns and Ayer-Shirley to settle the budget ourselves before July 1."
Mock later said the governor's budget would use revenue from his proposed income-tax increase to boost Chapter 70, whereas the House plan would fully implement the existing Chapter 70 formula through the current schedule.
The House Ways and Means budget would also increase the special-education circuit-breaker account to $5 million above the governor's proposed level-funding and increase the regional school transportation account by $1 million above the governor's proposed level-funding.
ASRSD Finance Director Evan Katz said he expects to hear from DESE soon regarding the district's application for reimbursement via the state foundation reserve, or "pothole" program. The district is eligible for funds to help offset extraordinary special-education costs, as well as Shirley's extraordinary increase in the total minimum RLC.
Whatever the outcome, said Kelly, the district's reserves will still be "grossly deficient. "
Mock cautioned the committee to keep a number of items in mind for the next fiscal year as it considers recertifying the budget again on or before June 28.
Katz said things coming in at a higher than projected cost include charter school tuition due to higher enrollment, increased electricity and unemployment costs, and an increase in the cost for another K-8 teacher.
Mock added that the regional incentive aid, a total of $53,280, is not in the House budget, and that the expected minimum of $44,200 in Ch. 70 aid is still subject to final appropriation.
As for federal grants, they "depend upon what goes on in Washington," said Mock. "Transportation reimbursement, school choice, and the circuit breaker could help us, but exclude those three items, and taking a look at those top three (higher) expenses, and you have about $223,000 identified as at risk. That's all the more reason to recertify the budget that you get."