TOWNSEND — In School Committee meetings this week, a new school budget was hashed out.
The number, $44,837,082, is different from the language, “level services,” but district administrators said the “budget will enable the school district to continue to provide students with access to the same programs and services they enjoyed during the school year that just ended” in an email to parents.
Final enrollments will not be determined until the end of August, but outgoing Superintendent Maureen Marshall said the current funding model will make for parity in all towns and meet the committee’s primary goal of addressing class sizes.
“We need to address them especially at elementary schools,” Marshall said. “Administratively, we have unknowns, such as exactly how many kindergartners or how many second-graders.”
“We would like to have time to modify staffing patterns to have revenues necessary to mitgate what we need.”
School Committee member Randee Rusch said two or three teachers being shuffled can keep class sizes down from 29 students to around 27.
“When classes get up into that size, any reductions make a big difference,” she said.
Marshall said it’s in the interest of middle-school principals to “have best qualified kids from elementary schools,” so “horse-trading” that focuses on core teachers to reduce class sizes is a district-wide affair.
At their meeting scheduled for Aug. 6, the School Committee will be presenting more information on the finalized budget. They will also be discussing whether or to increase athletic fees in order to offset athletic costs included in the budget.
Marshall said the most important thing was for the School Committee to certify a revenue stream, which it did. And the override vote on Aug. 28 across the district will see if it gets fully funded, pending several overrides.
Town Meetings to certify necessary override amounts will be held on Aug. 13, 14 and 15 in Pepperell, Townsend and Ashby, respectively.
On Aug. 28, Ashby polls will be open at Ashby Elementary school from noon to 7:30 p.m. In Pepperell, the Varnum Brook Elementary School will be polling from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Townsend Memorial Hall will be open for voting from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
As a way of reducing assessments further, Marshall included $200,000 worth of excess and deficiency money.
School Committee Chairwoman Susan Robbins said money will be used for one-time expenses in the unemployment and superintendent line items.
Within the superintendent line item, about $51,000 is a one-time expense, according to NMRSD Business Manager Julie Surprenant. This includes a pro-rated salary for the outgoing Marshall, who extended her stay through July to August and some end-of-contract items, according to Robbins.
Regulations surrounding Title 1 grant funding, Marshall said, may also be lax in the upcoming school year, which would help ensure class-size parity further.
“We are cognizant of our ability to provide need and under the auspices of the grant requirements, we couldn’t use the Title 1 tutor in Pepperell because it is considered richer than the other two towns,” she said.
Factors like free and reduced lunch counts and census information determines how Title 1 funding is allocated. Robbins said the committee will be briefed on the information next meeting.
The sole no voter on the recertification, School Committee member Robert Templeton, said the committee was taking a chance with this budget, but he would stand by it by adding teachers.
“Regardless of where I stand, I think we need a subcommittee to look at the budget and communication,” he said. “We should plan a workforce/workgroup and get together after Aug. 6 and put together something to tell folks what they’re getting with this override so we don’t have the same issue.”
Lack of education was a big reason for the failure of the last vote, said School Committee member Michael Morgan.
“We need to be educating people about what the cuts are, addressing what exactly we have in this budget and why our district needs them,” he said.
Robbins said the idea behind the budget is to give kids a “stable year.”
Speaking in support of the budget, Pepperell’s Alan Leao said he supports the School Committee’s recertified number.
“It sounds like the School Committee have their noses to the ground,” he said.