Nashoba Tech board backs challenge to regional-school transit cuts

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WESTFORD — Disapproving of a move by Gov. Deval Patrick to cut state funding for regional school transportation, members of the Nashoba Valley Technical School Committee voted to support an effort by the Massachusetts Association of Regional Schools (MARS) to challenge the decision.

Angered by a proposal by the governor to eliminate a planned increase in the transportation budget of $18,730,563 that would reduce the line item to fiscal 2014 levels of $51,521,000, MARS decided to take action.

In a statement dated Nov. 26, MARS Executive Director Stephen Hemman questioned the decision.

“The governor,” read Hemman’s statement, “asked outside agencies to take a 1.5 percent cut while he did a 27 percent cut to regional transportation. Why did he cut the increase completely? He could have cut half but he chose to cut it all.”

Citing a state law passed in 2010, Hemman noted that it was illegal for the governor to make cuts to transportation that were not equal to other cuts for other line items dedicated to education.

In a letter to the governor’s office sent in 2012 reminding officials of the law’s restrictions, David Sullivan, legal counsel for the Executive Office for Administration and Finance, responded that he was aware of the law but that “it was not clear to us what this statute means, but it seems unlikely that it limits the governor’s authority.”

Sullivan then added that MARS’ concerns would be taken into account as planning proceeded for the following year’s budget.

Reminding members that the latest cut in funding was the third time it has been done under Gov. Patrick, Hemman concluded his statement asking for donations to a legal fund that would be used to hire a law firm “to interpret the 2010 law and provide assistance in considering appropriate actions to take concerning protecting regional transportation reimbursement.”

In assembling his arguments against the cuts, Hemman noted that the latest proposed cut was much higher than those in the past; that by cutting regional transportation funds, the administration is sending the wrong message to the public about its commitment to education; and the loss of funding would mean a consequent rise in individual town assessments.

Agreeing to take part in the action, School Committee members voted to donate $500 to the fund.

Also at their meeting on Tuesday, committee members laid some of the groundwork for the ongoing fiscal 2016 budget formulation process by setting Jan. 27 for a work session and Feb. 3 for a public hearing on the budget draft.

At an earlier meeting, School Superintendent Judith Klimkiewicz told committee members that the first round of meetings with department heads had been held on Nov. 13 with the committee’s budget and finance subcommittee having held its first budget session for 2016 on Dec. 3.

The superintendent revealed her intentions for the fiscal 2016 budget in a statement addressed to administrators, staff, as well as committee members on Nov. 12.

“Essentially, the business office, the administration, and I will be developing a zero-based budget to review,” read the statement. “It is doubtful given the present state of the economy locally, statewide, and federally, and our numbers of students, that we will be able to maintain a level service budget this fiscal year.”

At the time, Klimkiewicz also noted that increases in staff and programming might also be in the cards.

A draft budget is expected to be ready for presentation to the School Committee on Jan. 13 followed soon after with a presentation to town officials.

On or about March 21, Westford is scheduled to hold its spring Town Meeting where residents will get their first opportunity to consider and approve the final budget.

Similar votes will then be taken at other town meetings including those of Chelmsford, Ayer, Groton, Littleton, Pepperell, Shirley, and Townsend.

The district’s budget for fiscal 2015 came to $12,441,899.

School Committee members Tuesday also:

* Approved additional spending in the amounts of $25,018 and $11,458 to the Stanley Roofing Company for continued work on the school’s roof. According to reports, with rain that had been falling since the previous weekend, new leaks have sprung up around the school building including in the cafeteria and library. Stanley inspectors were due to examine the leaks Dec. 10. With the added spending, cost for overall roof repairs is up to $1,276,458.

* Were informed that the school had received a grant of $76,692 from the MSBA (Massachusetts School Building Authority) that will cover part of the $415,003 cost of upgrading the school’s electrical infrastructure, including installation of solar panels.

* Heard from Jeff Scheminger about his recent trip to Michigan to attend a four-day training session needed to certify him as a FANUC robot trainer. With the certification, Scheminger will be able to teach students in the operation of industrial robots designed by FANUC America Corporation and to prepare for certification with the company’s product. The school currently owns a FANUC device used for student training purposes.Met student and athlete of the week junior Alyson Peterson of Groton and senior Kevin Lewis of Ayer respectively. Both are members of the school’s dental-hygiene program.