Staff Writer

SHIRLEY — In the latest move to advance a workable transition plan, the Ayer-Shirley-Lunenburg Regional School District Planning Board agreed to hire a financial consultant, to help the board craft the right assessments to transition three school operating budgets into one.

The board met for several hours on Saturday to work on the proposal.

The assessments will attempt to evaluate the costs and revenues that could be generated by all three communities as they transition into a regional school district, Ayer School Superintendent George Frost explained.

“We’re hiring a financial consultant to analyze our revenues to make the items alike,” Chairman Milree Keeling said. “The goal is to create an assessment model that’s fair and predictable” and that works for all three towns.

The minimum local contribution from the communities, Keeling explained, is based not only on student population but also on the wealth of the community.

“Shirley’s wealth of the community, along with population, is going to be different from Ayer and Lunenburg,” Keeling added, “just like Lunenburg and Ayer will be different from each other.”

Revenues don’t always go back to the school, Keeling noted. Some will actually go back to the towns.

“Tuition is a specific revenue that needs to be analyzed,” she said. “I’m sure there are tuition costs that the towns are paying each other right now and we have to factor in Devens as well. The financial consultant will help us figure out the relative power of all these variables.”

The board plans to hire a financial consultant this week and hopes to have an assessment model in place by mid-December.

Board members are meeting with state officials to continue the process of creating a transition plan suitable to all three communities.

“We will present our need for partnership for one-time and short-term costs,” Keeling said. “We need (state) partnership financially and we also need their support in the language of the agreement, to enable us to go from three operating districts to one region.”

The board decided to hold a public forum sometime in late January to discuss the status and transitional plan for creating the regional district.

Board members might hold public forums in their own towns first, to bring residents up to speed before holding a forum with all three communities together, in January.

Keeling added the ideal location for any new schools for the regional district should be located as close to the geographical center of the region as possible.

“By doing that, it would help minimize transportation time and cost,” Keeling said. “We also have to consider availability of a site itself. We don’t have an actual location as of right now, but we’re in agreement geographically.”

Keeling said community patience and support throughout the process has not gone unnoticed by the board.

“We believe (becoming a regional school district) has the potential to benefit our students, as well as the towns,” she said. “But we won’t know that for sure until we know the assessments. We know (the towns) have faith in us to do what’s right for each of the towns, so we have to be responsible that we can back it up. I believe we’re going to get there but we have to be responsible and show the benefits to the towns.”

The goal of the board is to have a transition plan in place that three towns will support during their spring town meetings.

“This group has worked very hard at trying to reach a consensus on some of the specifics going into an agreement,” Frost said. “The nine members of the committee are working very hard on what would be the methodology, assessments and other factors that go along with developing a regional school district.”

Frost added the specifics would be articulated in the actual regional agreement presented at the communities’ town meetings.