AYER-SHIRLEY — The two-town tri-board, dubbed the Regional Leadership Advisory Group by Ayer-Shirley Regional School District Superintendent Carl Mock, met for the first time Thursday night, Sept. 28, at the middle school.

In addition to the superintendent, school business manager and Regional School Committee representatives from each town, the group consisted of the two town administrators, both town accountants and representatives of the both towns’ top municipal boards: Selectmen and Finance Committee.

Envisioned as an informal “working group” when its configuration gels, the initial get-together was posted as a public meeting. Subsequent sessions will be posted as well.

The stated aim is to provide a platform for municipal and school leaders to discuss topics of common interest, share concerns and ideas and establish working relationships. They won’t take action or vote but will report back to their respective boards and departments.

Thursday night, all they talked about was the budget, but in general terms.

The upshot was that nobody had figures yet – “soft or firm” – but the towns need to know what the regional school assessment will look like as they build their budgets.

Ayer Town Accountant Lisa Gabris and Finance Committee member Brian Muldoon stressed that the school budget historically accounts for half the town’s operating budget.

Muldoon cautioned against surprises. A hike of more than 2 ? percent from last year would be a disaster for the town, he said. Gabris said that for now she’s basing her projections on last year’s figures from former Superintendent George Frost.

Shirley Selectmen Chairman David Swain and Finance Committee Chairman Frank Kolarik both urged full disclosure. “There’s only so much money,” Swain said.

On the school side of the table, Business Manager Evan Katz explained that mechanisms in the school budget are unique, and with no financial history for the new district to go on, its tough to make accurate calls early, especially this year.

The three entities must also align budget planning with Annual Town Meetings.

The challenge going forward will be to solve those problems. For now, all agreed the watchword would be sooner versus later to get budget figures on the table.

The group agreed to meet again in a couple weeks.

More on this story in Friday’s Public Spirit and Shirley Oracle.