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Bad timing nearly derails more cut talks Possible override figure cut to $1.45M


GROTON — Disagreements among members of the Groton-Dunstable Regional School Committee Monday night nearly derailed further attempts to chip away at a fiscal 2011 budget overrun clocked in at $1.8 million.

The difference of opinion fell largely with chairman James Frey on one side and the other six members on the other.

Discussion began after Superintendent Alan Genovese introduced a new list of proposed cuts to the FY11 budget totaling $400,795. Immediately, committee member Jon Sjoberg protested that the list was being submitted for discussion without the public having been properly informed.

Sjoberg pointed out that a public hearing on the budget and other suggested cuts had been held but no word was made at the time that other cuts might be in the offing. It was unfair, said Sjoberg, to offer them when no one from the public was present to voice their opinion.

Fellow committee member Berta Erickson added that bringing in a new round of proposed reductions at such a late date reinforced a notion among the public that the committee had not done enough “scrubbing” of the budget for savings when it approved an earlier round of cuts.

With a resultant shortfall of $1.8 million and subsequent talk of an override to make up the difference, Erickson said it did not look good to suddenly come up with more places that savings could have been made.

Erickson also said that the schools’ labor unions are not willing to make enough of a sacrifice in the way of wage concessions while the district continues to cut services. While the latest list of proposed cuts added up to over $400,000, the administration could only hope that the unions would agree to perhaps $300,000 in concessions.

In its defense, Frey told committee members that the new list of cuts was being submitted for their consideration as a result of requests by town officials to find more savings within the district’s budget. The chairman said that he took “full responsibility” for the late submittal.

In the end, without identifying where exactly the money would come from, committee members voted to reduce the district’s anticipated expenses for 2011 by $300,000, through a combination of savings, reductions and concessions.

In a separate decision, the school committee voted to ask the unions for a concession of $74,000 in addition to the $300,000 proposed by the administration.

With the new figures, the district’s bottom line for FY11 decreased from $36,795,260 to $36,421,260.

If the total amount of reductions voted on Monday night hold, it would reduce the shortfall for next year’s budget and a possible override to $1,448,726.

“I think we’re doing a good job defending what we believe in,” said Frey after the new numbers were tallied.

Also Monday night, the School Committee took a pair of votes to approve a job description for the position of director of business and finance and to set the salary range for the job between $95,000-$105,000.

Committee members had only been waiting to fill the position of superintendent before moving on to that of director of business and finance. But with input being sought from incoming superintendent Joseph Mastrocola, the process can begin to find a permanent replacement for Clare Jeannotte, the district’s interim director of business.

Jeannotte was hired last September after the school committee decided not to renew its contract with former director Timothy Sheehan.

According to the job description as approved by the committee at its March 29 meeting, the district’s director of business and finance “is responsible for all administrative and advisory work relative to the business operations of the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District” and “shall provide leadership in the areas of budget development, financial planning, accounting, building maintenance, transportation, and food services.”

The director will also have a supervisory role over the director of buildings and grounds, food services, and business office staff.

More to the point, the director of business and finance will have direct responsibility for the district’s financial management, formulation of the annual budget, purchasing, facilities management, human resource management, and effective communication of school budgetary issues to the school committee and the public.

Finally Monday, an attempt by Erickson to cancel school on Good Friday was fended off by Frey because too many days of school have already been missed by students. Another day off would endanger the state’s minimum requirement for the number of days classes need to be held.

Erickson had suggested that as long as school might be declared closed for rain and potential flooding predicted for later in the week, one of the days might as well be Good Friday.

Frey, however, claimed that with only a few days till the Easter weekend, there was no time to notify parents that classes would not be held on Good Friday.

The school committee first voted to hold classes on Good Friday last year after a difficult winter forced more missed school days than usual.