PEPPERELL — Pepperell’s share of the 2007 North Middlesex Regional School District (NMRSD) budget could increase $400,000 over last year, but, according to Superintendent James McCormick, final figures are elusive.
Last week McCormick told Finance Committee (FinCom) members that the finished budget could be available as early as Feb. 10, but state aid figures have still not been provided.
“We haven’t got the numbers yet, but it looks like an increase of $400,000 for Pepperell,” he said. “There is a $2 million deficit district-wide (in a $35.328 million budget). We’re down to the wire this year.”
“Let’s cut right to it,” said FinCom Chairman Christopher DeSimone, “What can we expect in state aid?”
Aided by Business Manager Gerald Martin, McCormick said the number is not yet calculable within Gov. Mitt Romney’s budget (House Bill Two). This year, the state is using a calculation formula that includes the personal wealth of a given community, he said.
“Right now Pepperell has more personal wealth than Groton-Dunstable,” said McCormick. “The formula is probably dead on arrival, but to help cope with high property values and decreasing earnings, the governor put personal wealth into (the mix).
“How it’s figured I don’t know,” he said. “We’re looking for a level-funded (2007) budget.”
Meanwhile, the superintendent has been looking at staff reductions made according to population shifts and class sizes. He is negotiating for a reduction in the percentage of health care costs paid by towns that could be placed in savings.
“We spent as much on special education transportation as we did on regular, and I’m asking (the state) for a transportation reimbursement of 65 percent,” he said.
“Aid is supposed to go up $150 million according to the Governor, but we’ve added buses,” McCormick said. “I’ve talked to leaders in the House and Senate. If the House and Senate give us more, good.
“In some towns lottery sheets have gone way up. (Sen. Robert Antonioni, D-Leominster) and (Senate President Robert Travaglini, D-Boston) have been talking increases. We’ll be pushing hard in the House,” he said. “As we get more word out of the House and Senate we’ll meet with you.”
Pepperell had a $765,000 deficit going into the 2007 school budget. McCormick and Martin applied some money from the roofing and windows account against that amount. They kicked in $230,000 from the excess and deficiency (E&D) account — a school district version of free cash — to drop Pepperell’s net deficit to $410,000.
Roughly 48.62 percent of the NMRSD population comes from Pepperell.
“The state has reduced utilities reimbursement 5 percent,” said McCormick. “We’ve talked user’s fees, a drop in sports participation and closing buildings. These are possible, but not yet. There are a lot of ‘what ifs.’
“The state is putting the burdens of schools on towns then backing off (aid),” he said. “I’ll say that again. Pepperell has no E&D, and Townsend and Ashby have a minus because of special needs.
“We’re squeezing on (sports) teams, times and using our buildings a little less. If I close buildings (after school) it is kicking ourselves in the face. A generator is down in Peter Fitzpatrick School right now so I could close it,” he said. “How much over the minimum contribution will we pay this year?” FinCom member John Croteau asked.
“As it stands now, $199,000,” McCormick said. “Today (Jan. 26) the minimum (Pepperell contribution) comes to $6,964,549.”
“If state aid increases (will the minimum decrease) dollar for dollar?” Croteau asked.
“Our request over the minimum will be decreased dollar for dollar. To be honest, the extra will go into E&D,” McCormick said.
FinCom member Burke Bero asked if the district is hurt when school choice students leave the system.
Yes, McCormick said, but not so much in the high school.
“We want to keep 22 per class,” he said. “Charter schools have hurt us. Ninety percent of school choice kids go to community schools. Charter schools have no (legal) responsibility (to educate children).”
“As a parent with kids in school I’m disappointed with increasing costs and Pepperell being asked to pay more,” said FinCom member Shaun Cummings.
“Salaries are not the problem. They’re up 2.5 percent,” McCormick said. “It’s the fixed costs that kill the budget. Say we save 15 percent on health insurance, that’s good for only 1.5 years. Temporary funding (for) schools has to pay (and) you can’t keep paying.”
“Truthfully, 15 percent would help,” Croteau said.
“If the (health insurance) cost went down 20 percent, there’s the $199,000,” DeSimone said.
All Pepperell school principals, School Committee member Sharon Santy and Assistant Superintendent Robert Dempsey also attended the meeting.