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AYER — “Get the right number.”

That was the sentiment expressed by Finance Committee Chairman Brian Muldoon to the Ayer-Shirley Regional School District Wednesday.

Muldoon recapped the highlights of the Sept. 29 meeting of Ayer and Shirley town, financial, and school leaders. It was a summit of what was, in effect, a meeting of selectmen, finance committee members, town administrators, and Regional School Committee representatives for the two towns.

Muldoon said that Ayer officials sought two things from the Ayer-Shirley Regional School District (RSD): the district’s 5-year plan, and the district’s proposed Fiscal Year 2013 assessment.

Muldoon said Bob Prescott of the Regional School Committee confirmed the 5-year plan is something they intend to map out, but not anytime soon. As far as targeting the school assessments for each town, Muldoon said school officials relayed that it’ll be tougher this year than last year to nail down that number.

“Last year they pieced together the two town (school) budgets,” said Muldoon. This year is different and “more difficult for them. I can understand it.”

“I stressed to them ‘Don’t give me a number just to give me a number’ because the way the schools go is the way the towns are going to go,” said Muldoon. “Take your time. Get the right number.”

To get the figure wrong would “throw us way out,” said Muldoon. He said his Shirley counterpart, Frank Kolarik, chair of the Shirley Finance Committee, agreed.

Finance Committee member Michael Pattenden wondered if a good starting point is to use the state minimum per pupil spending figures to estimate the district’s assessment.

“As a given, they’re going to get that much money anyway… Surely they cannot even now just take as much money as their budget says they need.”

“Because we’re a region, they’re able to come up with what they think they need and we vote on it,” answered Muldoon. “They’re going to present a bill to each town and we’ll get to vote on it. If it passes, it passes.”

Though Ayer officials outlined their budget timeline, the RSD Finance Director Evan Katz said the school is faced with “a lot of unknowns,” Muldoon recalled. The school is “hedging their bets as to whether the governor raises their budget.”

That data is expected in late January, which Muldoon said is “way too late” to be helpful to the municipal budget builders. In January, the Ayer Finance Committee traditionally launches into a series of department-by-department meetings to hear budget requests of the various cost centers.

Selectman Pauline Conley said that at the Leadership meeting, Ayer Town Accountant Lisa Gabree rued that she’s yet to close the books on Fiscal Year 2010, which ended June 30. It’s in large part because of outstanding Ayer School Department matters, said Conley. “It defies comprehension,” said Conley. The Regional School District went online on July 1.

“We can’t set the tax rate either,” said Conley of the delay. Former decade-long Finance Committee member Mary Spinner disagreed, stating that the tax rate is generally set in November, however she agreed that the closing of the FY 2010 books is well off schedule.

Muldoon said the next meeting of the Leadership Committee is Nov. 2, at 7 p.m. at the Shirley Middle School Library. The Ayer Finance Committee meets again on Oct. 26 – two days after Ayer’s Fall Special Town Meeting on Monday, Oct. 24 at 7 p.m. at the Ayer-Shirley Regional High School on Washington St. in Ayer.

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