TOWNSEND — The draft fiscal year 2007 House Ways and Means budget’s Chapter 70 state aid shows cuts to North Middlesex Regional School District receipts that are $445,169 less than Gov. Mitt Romney’s previously released recommended budget.
In response, state Rep. Robert Hargraves, R-Groton, said last week he has signed onto a budget amendment filed by the House Republican leadership that would guarantee the receipt of the largest of three alternatives: fiscal 2002 aid totals, the amount in the Governor’s budget or that of the draft House Ways and Means version.
As it stands, the house budget would bring $19,063,721 to the North Middlesex Regional School District, the same amount that arrived last fiscal year, according to Hargraves’ office. The governor’s budget would send $19,508,890 to the district. School aid in 2002 totaled $20,184,957.
Passage of the amendment would increase Chapter 70 aid for all three First Middlesex District school systems. The Groton-Dunstable Regional School District, however, lost only $93,000 in state aid in the House budget version.
”Groton-Dunstable has a lot of student population growth, and I think that’s the reason,” Hargraves said.
North Middlesex’s population is shrinking, according to Superintendent of Schools James McCormick.
”We’ve got to fight for our schools without question,” Hargraves said. “We’re going to fight for this money. This figure is not acceptable. I think a lot of people feel they were bushwhacked by the numbers that came out, particularly in North Middlesex. It’s wrong.”
”This is what a republican governor can do and uncap lottery money,” he said. “The governor had a different formula for Chapter 70 and other things that, at first thought, would bring in extra money. It was based on the foundation budget of the particular school district.
”There are a number of bills to increase Chapter 70 from the House Ways and Means version,” said Hargraves. “There will be a lot of activity this week and next. So many representatives are disturbed about why these amounts came in under (the Romney budget).
”A lot of amendments are coming in, 1,600 so far, mostly outside those that are financial in nature. I call them pork,” Hargraves said. “Some representatives are trying to run bills through without the hearing process.”
Once the Senate budget is released, both the House of Representatives and Senate versions will go before a six-member bi-partisan conference committee chaired by Democrats and composed two majority and one minority member from both the House and Senate.
”We know the Senate version won’t agree with ours,” Hargraves said. “There will be many compromises, a time-consuming, sometimes anguishing and mostly difficult process. Mostly negotiation.”
The conference committee budget then goes to the governor.
”In 1999, the process went on for five months, so there’s no telling when the final budget will be ready,” Hargraves said. “It could also come out in two weeks. Then come the rumors, the leaks and the misinformation until actual receipt (by the towns).
McCormick is more than mildly upset.
”They (House leadership) did a listening tour to hear from all our communities. Everyone said we need more Chapter 70,” he said. “So what do they do? They cut it. And we have a (state) surplus.
”It’s the old politics again. The House leadership isn’t listening to the masses. It’s unbelievable,” he said.
”I anticipated being $700,000 down. I thought for once in my career I could see politics dwindling, but with the new leadership this is worse than it has been since the inception of Proposition Two-and-a-Half,” McCormick said.
Lunenburg will probably reduce one school, Fitchburg, everybody’s in trouble,” he said. “I think the Senate will come in higher, however. State Sen. Antonioni and the others will come through. I want this done in order to leave the district in good shape (when he retires in June) but I remember once going into Labor Day without a budget.
”This is a calm reaction,” McCormick said. “You should have heard my first one. You couldn’t have printed an adjective or a verb.”
”This the big enchilada as far as politicians returning money to their districts and a lot of attention is paid to it,” Hargraves said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the number is boosted in debate next week and perhaps even more in the Senate.”