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GROTON — Once again the specter of an override looms over the school budget.

The Groton-Dunstable Regional School Committee met last week to deliberate over the upcoming school budget for fiscal year 2009.

The first draft of the FY09 school budget is not due for review by the Budget and Finance Subcommittee until Jan. 15. However, memories of the previous year’s budget woes prompted committee member Berta Erickson to raise the override issue.

“There’s no time like the present” to start educating the public about possible funding needs that may be over and above what the towns are likely to raise in new revenue next year, Erickson told her colleagues.

Her comments, she said, were inspired by questions she has fielded from residents who wanted to know if school officials were looking “creatively” at the upcoming budget.

Erickson suggested that if the district is forced to again pursue an override, the public’s concerns need to be satisfactorily addressed to win their support. School administrators should prepare a presentation explaining the proposed budget, she said, as the only way to “sell” an override to the public.

Superintendent Alan Genovese assured her that the district’s administrative council was busy reviewing budget issues but warned that the needs of the students, and not purely financial considerations, should be the driving force behind the effort.

The top priorities, insisted Genovese, were to maintain current class sizes and existing programs for students.

“Somehow, we have to put forward the full story of what happened this year,” Genovese said, referring to program cuts that were required in FY08 as a result of the failed override attempt.

With budget numbers for fiscal 2009 not yet available, the timeline of events reviewed at the committee’s meeting of Jan. 2 called for discussion of the first draft of the budget on Feb. 6.

On Feb. 12, school officials will meet with their counterparts from the town governments of Groton and Dunstable to review the proposed school budget, with a public hearing on the budget to be held Feb. 26.

The following day, the School Committee will give the budget a second review, taking into account input from the subcommittee, town officials and the public, then vote to adopt the budget on March 5.

If all goes according to schedule, the final draft of the FY09 school budget should be ready for presentation to voters at Groton town meeting in April and Dunstable’s town meeting in May.

Also last week, the School Committee heard from William McDonald, chairman of the Facilities Task Force, on the maintenance of current buildings and the possible need of new construction in the future.

According to McDonald, the task force broke into a number of smaller subcommittees, covering enrollment issues and maintenance of the Prescott School.

A slowdown in the real estate market is expected to keep overall student enrollment in the district down, allowing officials to focus on the maintenance of existing buildings, such the historic Prescott School.

However, maintenance and restoration of the Prescott School hit a snag recently when the state’s School Building Authority (SBA) voted to place it in the “hold” category, pending further evaluation of outstanding issues. A review by the SBA found that conditions at the Prescott did not qualify as “urgent” under its rules of eligibility and that more work needed to be done on future enrollment.

Also last Wednesday night, the School Committee:

* Saw the presentation of a certificate of academic excellence to student Brian Barrett, issued by the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents. Calling him a “highly motivated” and “well-rounded student,” Genovese told committee members that Barrett consistently scored among the top three in his grade since his first year at the high school and participated in a number of extracurricular activities.

* Voted to accept an anonymous donation of $2,000 for purchase of playground equipment at Boutwell School.

* Learned from committee member Forrest Buzan of his decision not to run for reelection because of his desire to spend more time with his family and because business obligations were interfering with his duties as a member of the School Committee.

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