By Ann Needle
The Nashoba School Committee officially voted in the proposed 2017/18 budget March 15, despite concerns from some of its Lancaster representatives that the spending package will worsen their town’s financial woes. There was also more discussion over the district’s plans to raise tuition for its preschool, full-day kindergarten, and Extended Day programs.
The $52.1 million budget, an estimated 3.49 percent hike over this year, was voted in 6-1, after it failed on the first vote of 5-2. SC Chair Lorraine Romasco of Bolton explained that the budget must pass by at least a two-thirds majority of representatives at the meeting, and the first vote was just shy of that majority. (Stow’s representatives voted in favor, with Nicole Odekirk absent.)
In that first round of voting, Lancaster SC Reps. Jennifer Leone and Susan Reardon both voiced concerns for their town’s finances in casting their ‘no’ votes. Leone stressed that the Nashoba budget was solid, but, “We just can’t afford it.” Referring to the severe cuts Lancaster may be forced to make in the coming fiscal year, Leone said, “It’s just going to get worse for us; we’re not going to have a Police Dept.”
Asked what could change Leone’s and Reardon’s votes, Leone suggested using some Excess & Deficiency funds, reducing that free cash account to about $580,000 from more than $1 million. Romasco responded that she would hesitate to bring E&D that low. She also remarked, “I don’t know how we would get it [the budget] lower without directly impacting programs.”
Leone also asked if administration could make a “serious commitment” to looking into channeling any future surpluses that may come up into reducing the towns’ assessments, though that would be an unprecedented move. Superintendent Brooke Clenchy agreed, calling Leone’s question a “reasonable request.” After a successful move to re-consider the first vote, the second budget vote passed, with Reardon the only dissenting vote.
Still to be included in the budget are the tuition hikes for next school year in preschool, full-day kindergarten, and Extended Day, which will presumably bring the budget down a bit. Clenchy noted that the district is waiting on more final enrollment numbers for these programs before including the hikes.
Concerns about Tuition Hikes
Meanwhile, those upcoming tuition hikes are drawing protests from some parents. During the Citizens Comments period at the start of the SC meeting, Laura Roberts voiced her concerns. Roberts is a Bolton parent with two preschoolers, one already accepted into Nashoba’s full-day kindergarten at the Florence Sawyer School.
“I feel the preschool program would have to exist without the tuition aspect; it shouldn’t be on the backs of preschool parents,” Roberts told the SC. She urged the SC to look more deeply into its previous questions around whether the programs are run efficiently. Nashoba’s rising tuition forced her to look into other programs, but most in the area already are full, said Roberts. She maintained that Nashoba’s programs are now more expensive than most in the area.
“I know this is a cruddy situation for a lot of parents,” agreed SC Rep. Neal Darcy of Bolton. But the district is in a bind as well, with preschool/full-day kindergarten/Extended Day all experiencing deficits, he said. The SC voted unanimously at its Feb. 27 meeting to hike tuition for all three programs.
Calendar Almost Set
Brooke Clenchy assured Nashoba families that, while the calendar for next school year has not been officially voted, the only outstanding issue is precisely how many late-start days there will be for Nashoba Regional High School.
NRHS Principal Dr. Parry Graham responded to earlier requests from the SC that administration provide evidence that this year’s late starts —designed to give teachers more time for curriculum planning — are having a positive impact on student learning. He noted that surveys of parents and teachers show that families do not find the late start for students disruptive, while teachers found the extra planning time valuable in enhancing learning.
Clenchy said she supports the concept of late starts, but is concerned that too much school time would be trimmed under the suggested 12 late starts for next school year. She agreed with Graham to meet and re-figure the suggested number of late starts, and to come back to the next SC meeting with recommendations.
In another issue with the 2017/18 calendar, Romasco reported that a parent asked whether the district could better place student half days for teacher professional development around the Jewish holidays, given Nashoba does not give those days off. Nashoba Human Resources Manager Ann Marie Stoica responded that it sometimes works out that way. For instance, in 2018 the district scheduled a PD day for Friday, March 30, which is when both Good Friday occurs and Passover begins. But that also means religiously observant staff may miss PD time as well, she noted.
“There’s not a way we could accommodate all of the religious holidays with the diversity of our community,” said Stoica. She agreed that principals should be alerted so they do not schedule school events, such as field trip, on those days.