TOWNSEND — Faced with declining enrollment and figures from the recently released governor’s budget, North Middlesex decided to tighten their belt.
Instead of increasing the budget by 5.82 percent for fiscal year 2016 as first proposed, the regional school district’s revised budget called for a 2.89 percent increase, bringing the budget in at $47.3 million.
After hearing a presentation by Superintendent Joan Landers and Business Administrator Nancy Haines, the School Committee voted in a $47.6 million budget on March 9, an increase of 3.64 percent over fiscal year 2015.
The committee decided to cut the first draft of the budget by $1 million rather than keep the $1.3 million reduction that was presented during the meeting, Landers said after the meeting. They did not specify what to reinstate.
“When the governor’s number came back and we saw how high the towns’ shares were,” Landers said, “we had to reduce things.”
“We really tried to prioritize all around what we need for student learning,” she said. The revised budget calls for a lot of consolidation of space rather than reduction in staffing.
Version one of the budget included new positions such as a school resource officer, an additional social worker and three full-time positions on the time for learning team. These positions were not in Lander’s revised budget.
High school enrollment is down, and Landers said positions will be cut in English language arts, math and social studies.
Moving the preschool to Peter Fitzpatrick building while the Squannacook School is being repaired will save the district two positions for the year, she said, one nurse and one secretary.
Ice dams caused water damage affecting 18 classrooms and the district is working with the insurance company to review the damage, Haines wrote in a follow-up email.
Landers said she is working closely with the director of buildings and grounds to use a smaller footprint at the high school. Other cost savings may be realized through insurance opt-outs, technology reductions and bus route consolidations.
“No cuts are good cuts when you know you need them,” Landers said. “I do realize the realities for all the towns.”
According to figures provided by Haines the day after the School Committee voted the $47.6 million budget, Townsend’s assessment is $9,808,129 including $8,744,454 for operating expenses, $953,422 for transportation and $110,253 for debt service.
Pepperell’s assessment is $12,989,687 which includes $11,209,683 for operating costs, $599,069 for debt service and $1,180,935 for transportation.
Ashby’s assessment is $3,188,433 with $2,834,594 for operating costs, $298,611 for transportation and $55,228 in debt service.
In fiscal year 2015 Townsend was assessed $7.9 million, Pepperell was assessed $10.4 million and Ashby $2.6 million.
Along with an increased budget, district revenues are down.
Haines wrote that state aid revenue will decrease approximately $180,638 in fiscal year 2016.
Local revenues are down $157,118 from fiscal year 2015. The decrease is due to a one-time use of excess and deficiency funds of $480,000. A settlement with the Merrimack Special Education Collaborative accounted for $280,000 of that total, Haines wrote.
Usually the school uses $200,000 from excess and deficiency each year, Haines said. Last year the $280,000 from the settlement was used to offset costs and, in effect, give the funds back to the towns.
The fiscal year 2016 budget includes the use of $300,000 in excess and deficiency, she said.
In other business:
Football co-captain Yanni Halkiadakis was named Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association student-athlete of the month. The senior was also selected to receive the national football scholarship in May, said coach Sandy Ruggles. “He is everything that makes coaching fun,” Ruggles said.
At the recommendation of the interim high school principal, the School Committee approved adding two senior-level social studies courses, Modern United States History 1 and 2 to the course of studies. The two courses replace similar courses named Social Protest and Backlash, and The Information Age.
The new names follow the course names used in the lower schools, said Principal Isaac Taylor.
The Gateway Program, for special needs students, will hold a fundraiser at the Pepperell V.F.W. on Saturday, April 11 at 7 p.m. to 11 p.m., student Matt Richards said. Tickets are available at the superintendent’s office.
Follow Anne O’Connor on Twitter and Tout @a1oconnor.