When Dr. Klimkiewicz presented the assessment at the Feb. 14 Selectmen’s meeting, she also asked the board to place an article on the Annual Town Meeting Warrant that seeks to establish a stabilization fund for the school district.
A multipage handout with her presentation provided facts and figures. Besides highlighting the budget process and the state of the school, some data were more generic.
For example, a clip from a Pioneer Institute White Paper prepared for the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education touted the success of vocational schools. It stated, in part, that “vocational school graduates are more job-ready” than general education or college prep counterparts, maybe even more so than college graduates.
The project study found that employers spoke highly of vocational school graduates as “more team-oriented and disciplined,” with “superior soft skills” such as teamwork and problem solving.
“In a tight economic environment, results like these are hard to ignore,” Klimciewicz said. Vocational school graduates are also prepared to enter college, and more than half do, she said. “That was unheard of 25 years ago.”
Her presentation cited cost-saving initiatives such as self-supporting cafeteria and athletic programs, provided building updates and listed “green” projects such as solar panels that garnered reimbursement money from the Massachusetts School Building Authority.
It also spotlighted student achievements. For example, the school had a zero drop-out rate for two years in a row. And despite early concerns that vocational schools shared about the high-stakes MCAS test, Nashoba Tech achieved “100-percent MCAS passage” six years ago. That record has held ever since. Among other noteworthy statistics, the rate of college-bound graduates is 60-percent over the last decade.
Making her case for a stabilization fund, Klimciewicz said it’s been 10 years since the last Nashoba Tech building project, and it makes strategic sense to plan for the future. The idea is to prepare for big capital expenses, she explained, such as roofs, mechanical systems and major facilities repairs.
Noting that she kept an earlier promise to the towns to cap annual maintenance and improvement expenses at $100,000, she said that amount won’t cover a major repair.
With an established Stabilization Fund, the district can build reserves to close the gap. The money would come from savings and some revenue, she said.
Presumably, that would be instead of using it to offset operating costs or rolling surplus funds from one year over to the next, which may lower assessments to member towns.
But Klimciewicz said setting up the fund makes sense even with no immediate plans to put money into it. One perk is that the district, which she said is “technically” a municipality, might get a better deal on borrowing for a large project. Bonding firms want to see that a district is “well-managed,” she said, and having reserves proves that.
As things stand now, the district’s borrowing power is up to the towns.
“We’d have to get a 100-percent vote from all seven towns to bond a project,” she said.
The towns would still have to approve it, she said. But they might be more likely to do so with another funding source, the stabilization fund, to help pay the bill. There’s no big job on the to-do list now, she said. But over time, there will be. “This is a beautiful school,” she said, and she’s not about to let it deteriorate.
But Selectman David Swain didn’t like the idea. “I believe a stabilization fund should be for towns,” not school systems, he said. His fear is that the district could bond a project and raise assessments when towns can’t afford it. “The towns don’t have a spare nickel,” he said. Shirley is operating on the edge. “We have two firefighters, nine police officers and three DPW workers,” he said, with no non-union raises for the last three years.
Selectman Andy Deveau said now may not be the best time to talk about a school district bank account, but he didn’t reject the idea. He congratulated the superintendent for “a very well-run organization,” but said he’d need more facts before voting to place the article she requested on the warrant.
Chairman Kendra Dumont said she also wants to look at the big picture more closely.
Klimkiewicz agreed to provide facts and work with the selectmen.
As the district’s Budget Committee chairman pointed out, the request before the board now isn’t to establish the fund, only to ask voters for that permission.
Klimciewicz proposed a write-in caveat that states if the fund is established, the district agrees not to ask to put money into it for the next three years. “I’ve worked very hard to develop relationships” with towns in the district,” she said. “I don’t want to ruin that.”