GROTON — School officials have face a number of years in which they had to wrestle with million-dollar-plus shortfalls. It forced them to scramble to make ends meet without seeking unpopular overrides.
But this year, Groton-Dunstable Regional School District’s new superintendent has managed to submit a proposed budget for fiscal 2012 that, far from seeking more funding, actually seeks less.
“During the development of this fiscal 2012 school budget, our major challenge is to be fiscally responsible in the approach and committed to maintaining and improving learning,” explained Superintendent Joseph Mastrocola in a written preamble to the proposed budget. “All the while, we must be vigilant in our conscious awareness of the current state and local economic restraints, so that both the school district and all municipal services are sustained to preserve the Groton and Dunstable communities as vibrant places with a quality of life enjoyed by its citizens.”
The fiscal 2012 budget proposed by Mastrocola at a special meeting of the School Committee held last week comes to $34,891,906, a reduction from this year’s spending of $223,926.
As a result of the level-serviced budget, assessments for Groton and Dunstable are to go down slightly in the coming year.
For fiscal 2012, the assessment for Groton will come to $16,042,855 and for Dunstable, $4,506,345.
Mastrocola said last week that the reason he was able to reduce the overall budget for 2012 was through a combination of revising vendor contracts with the district, implementing an energy-savings plan, and the coordination of collective-bargaining contracts.
Also helping will be reduced enrollment, which is expected to decline next year from 2,760 in 2011 to 2,735.
In addition to submitting a budget whose cost is to be less than this year’s, the superintendent also managed to enhance student services by adding 10 classroom teachers thus reducing overall class size district wide.
Mastrocola was also able to increase spending on such direct student services as text books and classroom supplies and adding a curriculum coordinator, a counselor at Florence Roche, and a performing-arts coordinator to the payroll. In addition, there will be room in the budget for the purchase of up to 80 new computers and $48,000 reserved for maintenance projects.
However, storm clouds could gather in the form of uncompleted labor negotiations with the district’s unions, higher insurance and special-education costs, and the ever-present possibility that the state may not come through with expected funding.
Any one of those could pose a threat that would unbalance a budget that rests on a relatively slim margin of $223,926.
A statement by Gerald Martin, the schools’ director of business and finance, confirmed that as much as a third of the district’s budget is covered by the state, a source that he said could be reduced by as much as 10 percent along with termination of federal stimulus dollars.
Another budget driver, said Martin, will be health insurance, which he is anticipating will increase by 14 percent in 2012.
When asked if the administration was prepared to find money within the proposed budget in order to cover the cost of such added expenses, School Committee Chairman James Frey said that “contingency plans” had been discussed to address unanticipated costs.
Frey, however, declined to say what those plans were.
“I think this is a much better budget than the one we had one year ago,” commented Frey. “It’s the result of a fresh viewpoint and places us on much firmer ground.”
Frey said that formulation of the new budget took into account questions raised by town officials last year regarding a lack of planning the would have resulted in the schools seeking large increases in spending every year.
With last week’s presentation, attended by a number of officials from Groton and Dunstable as well as faculty members and residents, details of the budget were expected to be discussed by the School Committee at its meeting Feb. 16 ahead of a formal vote on adoption March 2.
After that, residents will have their say when Town Meeting is held for Groton April 25 and Dunstable on May 9.
The schools’ budget for fiscal 2011 was $35,115,832.