By Katina Caraganis
TOWNSEND — The three member towns of the North Middlesex Regional School District remain in a holding pattern in terms of their assessment to the district after a Proposition 2 1/2 override failed last month.
The School Committee’s Finance Subcommittee met last week and representatives from the three towns — Ashby, Pepperell and Townsend — were invited to attend, according to Townsend Town Manager Andy Sheehan.
Superintendent Maureen Marshall was tasked with drawing up new configurations for a balanced budget that meet’s the district’s needs, he said, and the School Committee has 30 days from the date of the failed override to certify a new budget.
“Between now and the 20th, they will have to certify a new budget. Deciding whether or not another override vote will take place is up to the towns to decide,” Sheehan said Monday afternoon.
Townsend selectmen met Tuesday to discuss the various options.
If the member towns opted for another override election, first a Town Meeting must be convened to vote on where the appropriations will go, and then an election would be held to formally approve or deny the override.
This situation is always a concern for towns when a town budget relies so much on its assessment to the schools.
“That’s always a concern. We had factored in an increase of about $190,000. We don’t have a lot of flexibility in our budget, so anything over that would be potentially looking at another override vote,” Sheehan said.
Townsend’s assessment for fiscal 2012 was $7,907,428 and Sheehan said $8,105,114 has been budgeted for the current fiscal year.
He declined to say whether selectmen would opt to go after another override.
“I don’t want to get into different scenarios until we see the numbers, but it certainly is an option. It’s more of a scenario of what people can afford. It’s always hard to read,” Sheehan said, while noting he’s not entirely sure whether residents are completely opposed to the idea of an override or if the number from the most recent election, which was well over $1 million, was too high.
“We don’t do exit polling, so it’s hard to figure. I’ve heard some people say it was too big of a number while others said they wouldn’t support an override at all. It’s kind of Monday morning quarterbacking that really drove it,” he said.
Sheehan said this discussion doesn’t come as a total surprise to him or selectmen because there has been a level of uncertainty surrounding the school’s budget since the beginning of 2012.
“It would be nice to be done with it and have a firm number, but for the moment it doesn’t affect things on the town side,” he said. “It’s a matter of what they come back with and whether we can fund that in the levy limit or we need to go for another override vote.”
Ashby Selectman Peter McMurray said it is his understanding that any new assessment that may come in cannot be over what the town budgeted because Ashby has an approved fiscal 2013 budget, and the school does not.
“They funded the budget to what Proposition 2 1/2 would allow us to do. If they want any more money, we would have to go back to the town and ask for it, as far as I know. We have a budget, they don’t have a budget,” he said.
In order to get any increase, a Town Meeting vote would be inevitable.
“It all depends on what they’re asking for. It’s up to them. They could start the school year the way they are, they just don’t have enough to last the whole year,” he said.