SHIRLEY — The school budget close-out for fiscal 2010 spells good news for fiscal 2011, or at least cause for cautious optimism.
Business Manager Evan Katz told the School Committee at its Aug. 25 meeting that thanks to a “conservatively managed” budget last year, the year ended with a surplus of about $165,000 to $175,000.
The carryover represents only about 2.2 percent of the $7.8 million school budget for 2011, but the reserve amount will provide some cushion if unexpected year-end expenses hit, especially since the town has no reserves to help out the schools, Katz said.
The upcoming school year will be the last in which the district operates independently. On July 1, 2011, the Ayer-Shirley Regional School District will become operational.
The annual End of Year Financial Report for 2009 submitted to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education was audited by the firm Giusti, Hingston and Co., of Georgetown, Katz said. Now, the audit has been completed, with favorable results.
Of 20 items tested, 14 were found “materially correct,” five with reporting errors that were corrected. One item was “not applicable.” The town accountant also reviewed the report and asked questions, Katz said, and he’s working with her to resolve them.
Another year-end wrapup showed the energy-savings initiative moving forward, with staff and students pitching in to help save money and energy by shutting off electronic equipment and lights when not in use and closing doors in the buildings when they leave.
“Thanks to the help of our 130 employees, we have reduced our carbon footprint and budget significantly this year,” Katz wrote in a memo to the school board. Measuring energy consumption for 2009-10, compared to the year before, savings were substantial.
* Lura A. White Elementary School used 5,000 fewer gallons of heating oil, a 25-percent savings that translated to $9,000.
* Electricity use went down by 20,000 kilowatt hours. That’s 8 percent less, saving $5,000. Over two- and three-year periods the savings were even greater. The schools’ electric bill last year was $18,750 less than three years ago, adjusting for current rates.
* Middle school: 17,000 fewer therms of natural gas used, down 29 percent, saving $25,000. Two- and three-year savings were 39 percent, respectively, or $33,620 less than the cost two years ago.
* Middle school: 88,000 kwh less electricity used, down 15 percent, saving $12,000. Over three years, 38 percent savings, or $30,400 less than three years ago.
In summary, Katz said that assuming no change in use and stable prices, the schools would be spending $90,000 more a year for energy without the energy-saving effort.
He also noted a reduction in use of carbon-based fuels.
In other year-end business, Technology Coordinator Deb Cutter and Colleen Geddis submitted a wrap-up report for fiscal 2010. They reported 1,129 “tickets,” or requests for technical assistance, district-wide and including municipal buildings. The year ended with 104 open requests: 46 from the school, 58 from the town.
Several hefty projects were not included in the count, to avoid “overwhelming” numbers.
One item on the waiting list might be the town’s antiquated server, which Katz later said has numerous problems and needs replacement.
Despite shivers of uncertainly across the parking lot, there’s no indication at this point that the town could be left in the lurch by the pending technology split. Currently, the same computer system serves both town schools and municipal offices and departments. But the town will be on its own as of July 1, 2011, when the Ayer-Shirley School District becomes operational. That gives the two Shirley entities a year to sort things out.
“We look forward to working with the new Ayer town technology staff, the new town interim transition manager in Shirley, and the superintendent of schools to assist in prioritizing the town/school/region needs,” the Technology Report stated.
Assessing the status of school technology programs, the report said teachers have completed the yearly “Technology Self-Assessment Tool” online, with scores up 3 percent from last year, but still below DESE recommendations. Details are posted in the “Leadership Share,” and Cutter has been working with the Professional Development Committee toward improvement.
“There is no formal technology education on the town side,” the report said, but the IT team is mulling ideas to “incorporate some kind of training” vehicle via staff meetings or after-hour classes.
For the second year, students took a “formal technology assessment” online, but only 13 percent of eighth- graders that took it scored 70 percent or higher.
Created by InfoSource Learning, it directly ties into the National Educational Technology Standards for what need to know “in an increasingly digital world,” the report stated.
Cutter and Geddis said the addition of a new middle-school computer lab teacher should help scores improve over the next couple of years, and they will track results.
The report described the year’s accomplishments:
* Improved security at the middle school, hardware and software.
* Started working with vendors and Ayer staff on regionalization projects and timelines.
* Started to work on IT projects at Town Offices, including GIS.
* Upgraded Assessors’ (Patriot) server.
* Completed network assessment for town and school, began implementing changes.
* Installed asset management software on all but three computers, two of which are missing, one out of order.
Other work was done with assistance from Town Technology Advisory Committee Chairman Rich Dill.
A current inventory of IT equipment for the town and school lists 300 desktops, 20 servers and 34 laptops in Town Hall, Council on Aging, Hazen Memorial Library, police department (minus cruiser laptops), Department of Public Works, Fire Department, Lura A. White School and Shirley Middle School.
More than half the desktop computers — 235 — are in the schools, plus seven servers and 21 laptops.
Overall, town and school technology systems “are in working order but in desperate need of upgrades,” the report said, and IT goals this year should be to provide recommendations, budget projects and professional development options for staff.
The final line in the report underscores the new order from that slant: “This year will be challenging as we work together with Ayer to build a regional district and continue to support the Town during this separation process.”