GROTON — Things have gone from bad to worse for the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District as administrators wrestle not only with a growing budget shortfall for fiscal 2010, but with a deficit in the next budget cycle that threatens to dwarf it.
At a meeting of the School Committee held last week, members learned from the district’s director of business and finance, Clare Jeannotte, that the shortfall in the 2010 budget of $500,000 she reported at their last meeting had since grown by another $300,000.
Jeannotte informed the School Committee of the original figure barely a month before their Dec. 2 meeting and in that instance, the driving factor was a decision by Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration to cut the state’s Chapter 71 transportation funds to cities and towns by as much as 44 percent. If implemented, the move would severely cripple a district budget for this year that was already balanced on a razor’s edge.
Angry school officials across the state, including those at Groton-Dunstable, immediately rebuked the governor in a letter and moved quickly to bring local legislators into the battle against the cuts.
In the meantime, however, the administration at Groton-Dunstable was forced to plan for the worst and look at administrative and personnel cuts in order to balance their budget. Thus, Jeannotte told committee members last week that she had already met with the principals of the district’s schools to inform them of a slowdown in spending being planned by the administration.
But even as those efforts went forward, other factors began to enter the picture including a reduction of Dunstable’s assessment for fiscal 2010 that swelled the shortfall for this year by $300,000.
Warning the School Committee about the consequences to student services due to the cuts, Superintendent Alan Genovese went on to prepare members for even deeper losses expected for fiscal 2011; losses he predicted could total in the millions of dollars.
“We’re still going to try and make this all work,” said Genovese. “We want to maintain as many positions as possible but I don’t know if I can guarantee that there will be no staff reductions.”
Committee Chairman James Frey joined Genovese in expressing his belief that fiscal 2011 could see a shortfall of as much as $3 million.
“We definitely have some challenges coming up,” said Frey.
Genovese, however, vowed that if such cuts resulted in major disruptions to school services, he would try to limit their impact on students.
Facing possible deficits in the 2011 budget in the magnitude of millions of dollars, the superintendent warned School Committee members that if the district were to maintain its current level of services to students, then there would be no choice but to ask for an override, something that has proven to be unpopular over the last few years with residents suffering under a weakening economy and record unemployment.
Agreeing, Frey noted that it was not only the school district that faced such a choice, but the towns as well.
“I guess there’ll be more to come on that,” said Frey.