TOWNSEND — In a regional school district, distance counts.
In Massachusetts, regional districts receive aid money from the state for transportation cost.
But proposed mid-year budget cuts mean a 27 percent reduction in transportation funding for regional districts, Superintendent of Schools Joan Landers said at the North Middlesex Regional School District School Committee meeting Monday.
“The law is supposed to protect cuts to just regional districts,” she said. “We understand that sometimes cuts have to be made, but they have to be even.”
She said she is preparing a letter to legislators and will meet with a committee for further research.
The cost to transport students is not the only area where distance affects the district.
Preschool students are not eligible for school transportation, but the distance to the preschool affects enrollment. When the district consolidated the program, with just one location in Townsend, enrollment of Pepperell students dropped, said Linda Rakiey, director of special education.
“We’ve tried to be really flexible in what we offer folks,” she said. “Still, our enrollment is down.”
The preschool has a highly qualified staff, which is a nice feature, said Chairman Susan Robbins of Townsend. She wanted to enroll her children in the school when they were that age, but because of transportation issues was not able to do so.
Parents do not want to drive from Pepperell to Townsend and head back east to work, Rakiey said at an earlier meeting.
Working families need a longer day than the preschool is able to offer, she said.
They really need coverage from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
“It’s very difficult for families to maneuver around that,” Rakiey said.
The preschool offers full- and half-day sessions and parents can choose the number of days they send children, but that has not helped enrollment, she said.
“We are looking at additional options,” she said, including grouping children by age and opening a school in Pepperell.
The committee voted to leave tuition rates at the same level as last year.
The district is required to offer preschool for special needs students when they turn three, Rakiey said. Families whose children do not have special needs can also enroll in the preschool.
Full-day, five days a week, $600
Half-day, five days a week, $360
Half-day, four days a week, $300
Half-day, three days a week, $240
Half-day, two days a week, $180
Both the town of Ashby and the North Middlesex district that includes Ashby will benefit from their regional affiliation in an area unrelated to transportation.
The district needs to upgrade the well storage tank at Ashby Elementary School, said Oscar Hills, director of buildings and grounds.
The town needs to improve water in nearby municipal buildings, said Ashby Selectman Mike McCallum.
The town will tie into the school well and in return will contribute to the cost of renovating the pump room at the school. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection is in the loop, McCallum said.
The school will need to make improvements to the tank within five years, Hills said. The best way to do the project is to do it at the same time the town does its work.
“Even though money is tight, I do recommend we go with it,” he said.
The School Committee approved his recommendation.