LUNENBURG — Residents turned out at the high-school auditorium Wednesday night to tune in to a presentation of strategies to help close a prospective $1.2 million gap in the School Department budget for fiscal 2013.

A level-services budget of $16.6 million was presented by Superintendent of Schools Loxi Jo Calmes at a public hearing in January, and that figure is $1.7 million higher than last year’s budget.

Calmes said Wednesday that residents should be proud of the level of education offered to students, but level-funding the schools in the next fiscal year could lead to a decline in the future, and suggested a Proposition 2 1/2 override to allow taxes to be raised.

“This is the time when we need to take notice,” Calmes said. “Education is the pathway to the future. We need to do everything possible to make sure our neighbors understand the importance of this year.”

The budget has increased greatly because of some big cost increases to the school system, Calmes said.

For instance, next year will show a $390,000 increase in salary contracts, as well as an extra $200,000 to be paid toward health insurance. A rise in out-of-district placements accounts for $321,000, as the school projects eight more students will need to be educated in a different system.

Also, a new three-year contract for busing in fiscal 2013 accounts for a $100,000 increase, plus $81,000 more is needed to transport the extra out-of-district students.

In addition to those increases, factor in the loss of a one-time, $300,000 federal stimulus package to provide education jobs, as well as a $250,000 decline in revenue from school-choice students from Shirley, which has regionalized with Ayer.

However, an extra $586,000 that is coming to the town in Chapter 70 money from the state, as well as a drop of $133,000 in health-insurance renewal should make up for the loss of the federal stimulus money and the decline in Shirley enrollment, Calmes said.

That still leaves $1.2 million to make up.

To shorten that gap, Calmes discussed an $850,000 reduction is personnel, which means teachers’ jobs are on the line.

“We’re going to lose people in classrooms,” School Committee Chairman Gregory Berthiaume said. “We’re going to lose people that are important to our students and to making ours a vibrant community.”

Though there is no official number of how many positions would make up that $850,000, Berthiaume estimated it to be in the area of 20 to 25.

For more on this story, see