WESTFORD — Administrators for the Nashoba Valley Technical High School District unveiled their proposed budget for fiscal 2015, showing a 5 percent increase over this year’s spending.
According to Superintendent Judith Klimkiewicz, though the rate of increase is less than that of fiscal 2014, it was nevertheless driven by the school’s climbing population and consequent growth.
Klimkiewicz said Nashoba Tech has experienced the highest growth rate among all technical schools in Massachusetts.
In a first draft of the 2015 budget presented to members of the School Committee at their meeting Tuesday night, the bottom line came in at $12,191,899, an increase over the previous year of $619,657. The budget for 2014 is $11,572,242.
Driving the increase is the rising number of students who have chosen to attend the technical school, necessitating addition to the budget of such items as the hiring of a school psychologist at an annual salary of $83,340; $57,110 for software upgrades; $167,151 for instructional materials; $67,476 for a new guidance counselor; and $10,000 for various student needs.
Other factors include the rising cost of health care due to changes imposed by the Affordable Care Act, upkeep of playing fields, school supplies, and the usual increases in utilities and contractual obligations.
Klimkiewicz said work on the new budget is slated to continue, with state aid for education to be factored in when Gov. Deval Patrick’s state budget is released Jan. 22.
Eventually, a final fiscal 2015 budget will be prepared for discussion and voting by the committee on Feb. 4. After that, residents will have their say at Town Meetings throughout the district, which includes Ayer, Chelmsford, Groton, Littleton, Pepperell, Shirley, Townsend and Westford.
Also slated for fiscal 2015 will be some extensive capital spending by the school totaling more than a million dollars, including money for facilities maintenance and technical programs.
The School Committee on Tuesday authorized the superintendent to begin procurement planning for facilities maintenance totaling $173,000, covering replacement of the gymnasium floor, as well as improvements to indoor and outdoor lighting, upgrading the computer for the school’s mechanical system, and the exterior sprinkler system.
Committee members also authorized Klimkiewicz to begin the bidding process for up to $861,160 for new equipment and upgrades to many of the school’s programs of study, including automotive, cosmetology, design and visual communications, electronics, early childhood education, and plumbing.
Other expenditures will help to maintain building security, information technology and the library. Although the spending is to be applied to 2015, it is not included in the new year’s budget and so will not need direct approval at various Town Meetings.
The School Committee also chose to improve Nashoba Tech’s fiscal profile by approving the establishment of an Other Post Employment Benefit, or OPEB, irrevocable trust-fund account. According to district Treasurer Timothy Harrison, establishing the account was recommended to reassure markets that the district takes its unfunded liabilities seriously.
Harrison told committee members that currently, the district owes $11.3 million in unfunded liabilities, mainly for retired employees’ health care. If the school had historically been putting money aside for the expense, it should have had $5.3 million already saved up.
Instead, the district has been meeting its responsibilities on a pay-as-you-go basis, and although Harrison said the school is not in danger of falling behind in its payments, it would be best for such entities as the bond market to have evidence that the district is serious about paying its bills.
To avoid a time when employee liabilities might exceed the district’s ability to pay, and to maintain its standing with important financial entities and fiscal review boards, it was judged best to authorize the superintendent to open an OPEB account.
Committee members, however, specified no amount for immediate deposit.
Harrison told them a line item would have to be added to the school’s regular budget earmarking money specifically for deposit in the fund, which could not be used for anything else. That amount would then have to be approved by residents at Town Meetings when they considered the annual budget for approval.