Jan 3, 2014
By Ann Needle
Amid a sometimes-tense discussion at the December 18 Nashoba Tri-Town Committee meeting, officials from Nashoba’s three District towns called for more oversight of school spending. Though it was unclear just how the Regional School District budget should be more closely monitored, town officials urged caution in school spending, as municipal budgets remain tight.
Formed to discuss school-related finances after Nashoba’s fiscal woes of a decade ago, the Tri-Town Committee consists of government representatives from the three Nashoba District towns of Stow, Bolton, and Lancaster. Meeting locations circulate among the towns, with this meeting held at Lancaster Community Center.
At the center of the debate was whether to form a school advisory board to oversee spending decisions by Nashoba administration. While there were no decisions made on creating a specific board, Tri-Town members appeared to agree that the towns should keep a closer eye on what the district spends.
Pointing to the need for an advisory board, several Tri-Town members decried that the district overran Nashoba Regional High School’s athletic field project by $140,000 over the $2.2 million bond approved by the towns.
According to Nashoba Superintendent Michael Wood, the $140,000 will be absorbed into the FY 2014 budget, mostly into the maintenance portion.
Wood defended the project’s total cost, pointing to the concession stand portion, which should come in about $50,000 under its estimated $300,000. This was accomplished with cost-saving moves such as cutting the number of planned bathroom units in half.
He also was questioned on purchasing a plow truck last winter with approval of the School Committee.
Wood defended these financial moves as being within Nashoba’s power.
“Frankly, we run a very professional organization,” he maintained. Though stressing that district towns provide “excellent” support for its schools, Wood added, “You don’t have the right to tell us whether to buy a truck; the School Committee does.”
School Committee Chair Nancy Federspiel of Bolton agreed, “How many people need to go over what we buy? Our meetings are open.” However, Tri-Town members noted that attending the School Committee’s twice-monthly Tuesday meetings is tough for most town officials —especially for Stow, which holds Selectmen’s meetings twice a month on Tuesdays.
When Stow Board of Selectmen Chair Don Hawkes
said he also would like to see more School Committee members at Tri-Town, Federspiel responded that this would happen more readily if Tri-Town did not have the reputation of “finger pointing.”
Town Budgets Likely Steady
Meanwhile, it appears town budgets will remain steady, not leaving room for big hikes in school spending.
Hawkes noted there should be budget estimates coming out of Stow in the next few weeks. But, given Stow could be facing three capital projects, spending likely will stay cautious. Bolton Advisory Committee Member Connie Benjamin said all Bolton departments have been asked to submit level-funded budgets. Lancaster Town Administrator Orlando Pacheco said he is hoping for level services.
BAC Member Bob Czekanski asserted that only about 30% of his town’s budget is not school related. Given that leaves the town powerless over most of its spending, he stressed, “That’s why we need this [school advisory] committee.”
Given the large chunk of town budgets devoted to the schools, some Tri-Town members complained that the March 15 deadline for Nashoba to submit its budget request for town meeting warrants makes it tough to finalize municipal budgets for the meetings.
Wood responded that the Nashoba deadline date could be moved by changing its regional agreement. However, he noted that Nashoba’s budget planning could become less concise with an earlier deadline, given the district would not have as much final information on state aid.