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pcomtois@nashobapub.com

GROTON – Unveiling a formal draft of the proposed operating budget for fiscal 2008, officials of the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District informed members of the School Committee that spending next year would increase by almost 10 percent.

In making his initial presentation of the budget to the School Committee last week, superintendent Alan Genovese revealed that the FY2008 budget would total $30,666,653 an increase over that of $27,889,522 for 2008.

However, if the district’s debt service responsibilities are also included in the budget, the grand total for FY2008 would come to $35,878,155; a number that would considerably affect the actual percentage increase.

Including the district’s debt service, the grand total for fiscal 2006 came to $32,915,642.

According to a written preamble to the proposed FY08 budget, School Superintendent Alan Genovese explained that the budget was being presented in two parts "in order to better understand the two major components that contribute to its total."

Genovese said his reasons for culling out the debt service from the total operating budget was because the debt service portion is treated under different rules from the operating portion that discourage attempts to reduce it.

Thus, in considering the operating portion of the budget only, an increase of 9.96 percent for 2008 will represent a $2,777,130 increase in spending over this year.

"While the district acknowledges that this budget represents a significant increase, this preliminary budget is considerably less than the first draft budget presented in November to the School Committee and town officials," stated Genovese.

Indeed, the public had dodged a bullet with the earlier draft of the 2008 budget which came in with a 15 percent increase due mostly to a request for the hiring of 22 new employees.

Aside from the usual culprits including rising insurance costs and increases in such utilities as water and electricity, the biggest factor in the jump in costs is a 3.25 percent pay raise promised teachers in the third year of their contract with the district.

Also adding to the bottom line is the proposed hiring of 13 new employees of whom only a few are expected to be full time for a total expenditure of $512,090.

Included in the mix are upcoming negotiations on new union contracts and enrollment projections which school officials estimate will total 32 in the coming year, a 1 percent increase over this year’s total of 2,947 students.

"I think the requests here are reasonable and on point," said Genovese at last week’s meeting.

In earlier projections, it was estimated that the overall district student population would be decreasing in coming years including an estimated 6.7 percent loss in the earliest grades and a 20 percent decline in the high school.

Guiding administrators in their spending decisions stated Genovese, were areas such as technology, MCAS results, special education, class size, and students’ "emotional, social, and academic support."

Complicating the process of arriving at an accurate bottom line figure for the new budget is the transition at the state level from one governor to a new one. The change in administrations, stated Genovese, could cause at least a month’s delay in presentation of the governor’s proposed state operating budget for fiscal 2008 which will include local aid figures for education.

That delay has required district officials to assume the worst and include level funding from the state that would place the entire burden of the 9.96 percent increase for 2008 in the hands of member towns.

Genovese characterized the resulting figures for local assessments as "sobering."

Coupled with a new formula for setting local assessments that takes into account a town’s aggregate personal income as well as property values and a consequent decrease in state aid, the amounts Groton and Dunstable each pay toward support of education is likely to increase in any case.

As it stands in the proposed budget, Groton’s individual assessment would come to $14,674,367 or $2,161,899 more than in 2007 (which does not include its share of payment on outstanding debts). Dunstable’s share of the assessment would total $4,269,489.

"We are cognizant of the fact that the town governments in both Groton and Dunstable must deal with competing demands from many constituencies for scarce resources," admitted Genovese. "This preliminary budget reflects a much higher annual increase than the last several school budgets.

"We will continue our efforts to save taxpayers money by operating in the most efficient manner possible," pledged Genovese.

With last week’s presentation, the School Committee will begin its formal review of the proposed budget at its meeting of Feb. 7 with a public hearing on the subject set for Feb. 28.