TOWNSEND — In order to bring the school budget in line with the towns’ budgets, it can only increase 1.24 percent over last year.
Currently, the assessment for the North Middlesex Regional School District would increase between 3 percent and 5.5 percent, according to figures presented at the School Committee meeting on Monday.
A level-funded budget would still mean a higher assessment from last year, since revenues have decreased, said Chairman Susan Robbins.
The committee adopted a budget with a 3.64 percent increase on March 9. Town officials from Pepperell and Townsend met with the committee on March 19 where the School Committee agreed to take another look at the budget.
The committee did the right thing to adopt the 3.64 percent increase, said committee member Robert Templeton. He gave three reasons for approval of the initial amount.
The budget allowed them to see what the administration felt was needed by the students, there was little time to prepare a budget prior to town meetings because the governor’s budget came in so late in the season, and the committee does have the ability to lower the budget, he said.
Because of the short time between getting the figures from the state and deadline for town meetings, the committee was not fully aware of the effects on town budgets, Robbins said.
During the follow-up meeting, Superintendent Joan Landers recommended that she prepare budgets that would show the cuts needed to bring the increase down between 2.89 percent and 1.24 percent.
“I’m going to be upfront tonight and say to get down to the 1.24 percent is very difficult,” Landers said. Cuts to programs, increased class sizes and user fees for extracurricular activities might be involved.
Using excess and deficiency funds is not a good idea, she said, because the problem is not limited to this year.
Landers also asked that the budget be finalized during the April 6 meeting, so that if any district personnel were to be laid off, they would have ample warning.
The towns also need to put the budget on their Town Meeting warrants, she said.
“I think that’s a fair date to shoot for,” Robbins said.
The committee was not intending to recertify a number on Monday, Robbins said.
One committee member asked parents to be more involved with the budgetary process.
“This is your children’s education,” said Michael Morgan. “To not have parents here is a little disappointing.”
Two parents have consistently attended budget meetings, he said, but when an award is given out, the room is filled.
Landers invited community members to attend a parent advisory group on Thursday at 6 p.m. at the high school.
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