TOWNSEND — The North Middlesex Regional School Committee is expected to consider a $45.9 million budget for next fiscal year, a 2 percent increase over fiscal year 2014.
The district’s Finance Subcommittee met Tuesday afternoon to discuss the preliminary budget estimates, which will be presented at a public hearing at the school next Monday at 7 p.m.
Following Monday’s presentation, adjustments to the budget may be made before the school committee votes to approve it in early March.
“Today we’re trying to look, in preparation for the meeting Monday, at revenue sources and also looking at the bottom line budget as the key points,” School Committee Chairwoman Susan Robbins said.
Although the superintendent’s office is continuing to finalize budget numbers this week, Robbins said they represent close estimates at this time.
“Without firm numbers from the state, as we do every year, we need to make educated guesses but be conservative,” Robbins said.
The projected budget increase is higher than last year’s, when the budget rose 0.44 percent between fiscal years 2013 and 2014, according to Superintendent Joan Landers.
Increased revenues came in the form of an increase of about 0.44 percent in Chapter 70 state education funding, and an increase of 3.3 percent in Chapter 71 funding, which goes toward transportation expenses.
Assessments for the member towns Pepperell, Townsend and Ashby had not yet been finalized, but will be presented at Monday’s meeting.
Landers said that one of the driving factors behind the $190,000 budget increase in transportation is a contract with a new bus service provider, Dee Bus Service, Inc., based in Shirley.
Dee took over transportation service for Pepperell students in December after the town’s previous bus service filed for bankruptcy. They recently agreed to a three-year contract to serve all three of the district’s towns beginning July 1.
Business Administrator Nancy Haines said that discussions on the transportation costs were ongoing this week.
“We’ve been in contact with Dee to see if, now that it’s one provider servicing all three towns, if there can be some kind of consolidation, but we don’t know,” Haines said.
Costs in other areas may be cut under the new budget, Haines said.
Health care costs are down by $100,000 for fiscal year 2015 due to savings that will be passed on from Minuteman Nashoba Health Group.
The district’s retirement expenses will be increasing by $44,000.
The committee is also considering the possibility of reducing expenses by hiring teachers at lower pay grades to replace 12 to 13 employees who are planning to retire.
Robbins said this is a common practice, but with so many employees about to retire, the situation presents an opportunity for significant cost savings.
“If the position makes sense to replace, you tend to hire toward the bottom of the scale,” Robbins said. “That’s pretty typical every year.”
Members also discussed the possibility of moving teachers around within the district to address changes in student enrollment in different grades, potentially reducing staff in grades with low enrollment, although no decisions had been made.
“We’re making adjustments to positions based on the enrollment trends,” Robbins said.
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