By Ann Needle
The Nasoba District’s three towns held the first Tri-Town meeting of the school year in Lancaster on Oct. 6, looking ahead to some of the costs the towns should anticipate for the 2017/18 school budget. Town officials also continued their discussion on the long-simmering traffic issues outside of Nashoba Regional High School.
Looking at what could impact next school year’s budget, School Committee Chair Lorraine Romasco of Bolton reminded town officials that the district is facing its regularly-scheduled contract negotiations with teachers this year. Nashoba is also devoted to continuing its Chromebook initiative, which gives a Chromebook laptop computer to each eighth grader to work with until they graduate from NRHS. She noted that the SC is hoping the initiative will begin even earlier than grade 8 someday, but needs to first assure the schools have enough bandwidth to handle the additional activity.
A bigger question is how much the district can afford to contribute to OPEB (other post-employment benefits). Though municipalities and school districts are not yet required legally to contribute to these estimated future benefits, this could change, and Romasco pointed out that most are far behind what new accounting standards estimate should be put away. She noted that the towns should expect the SC to call for some sort of OPEB contribution in the coming budget, though it is expected to be small.
According to Bolton SC Rep. Neal Darcy, who serves on the committee’s Finance Sub Committee, Nashoba only has about $175,000 earmarked for OPEB, while its unfunded liability is at roughly $5 million. Nashoba Interim Business and Opertions Manager Pat Marone added that those estimates are based on the district’s approximately 300 retirees, and that her office is working on a more formal calculation of the district’s total liability.
In other possible budget drivers, Superintendent Brooke Clenchy said that many sudden Facilities fixes that came up this summer are almost all taken care of (many paid for by Bolton). However, she said she anticipated the district will need to pay for some longer-term maintenance, such as replacing the roof at NRHS.
“Some Dangerous Things” at NRHS
Romasco said the SC is facing what to do with the space issues identified at the crowded high school earlier this school year. This could involve contracting for a feasibility study to figure out what should be done, then applying to the state for funding for any construction, she said.
Turning to another ongoing issue at NRHS, Bolton Town Administrator Donald Lowe reported that some town and district officials met in Bolton with the MA Dept. of Transportation early last week regarding how to carry out “traffic calming” around the school. He explained that the hairy intersection of Rte. 117 with Forbush Mill and Green roads in front of the high school has made the area dangerous for both student drivers and pedestrians crossing 117 to get to Classics Pizza.
Lowe said potential solutions discussed included brighter lane markings, putting in a crosswalk, improving lines of sight for drivers — perhaps with a traffic circle — and lowering the speed limit. Meanwhile, he noted that MassDOT strongly suggested Bolton contract a traffic engineering firm to help narrow down possible fixes.
Part of the meeting with MassDOT involved observing the scene outside NRHS shortly after dismissal, with Bolton Selectman Jonathan Keep remarking, “We saw five examples of some dangerous things.” He suggested taking a closer look at the high school’s drop-off, pick-up, and parking procedures. Keep also mentioned that recent legislation was passed to allow towns to set their own safety zones, particularly in highly-settled areas. Given the law still is being interpreted, he suggested the town formally submit its concerns now to MassDOT.
Lowe agreed with Lorraine Romasco that one move the town can make toward safety fairly quickly is to replace the faded traffic signs around the high school.