Budgets Discussed at Tri-Town… Feb. 10, 2016

By Ann Needlebudget
Administrators and officials from Nashoba’s three towns used the monthly Tri-Town Meeting on Feb. 3 to look at budget-related issues throughout the Nashoba Regional District.

With the Nashoba Regional’s official 2016/17 budget still be to be rolled out, School Committee Chair Lorraine Romasco of Bolton offered background on the different approach the SC is taking this year to finalizing a budget. She explained that the SC launched this year’s process at its January 25 Budget Workshop, where Nashoba administration unveiled its rough spending plan. Until this year, administrators presented its first budget at a regular SC meeting, with the Workshop used as a forum for staff and the community to question proposed items that made it (or not) into the proposed budget. This year, the Workshops are being used to work with administration on finalizing the budget.

Romasco reported administrators initially asked at the Workshop for a 3.5% total hike over 2015/16, with about a 5.4% average hike in assessments across the towns. Assistant Superintendent George King noted that, unlike this year, Nashoba should see similar hikes from town to town in assessments. Stow had a substantially bigger bump up in its contribution this year due partly to a spike in the number of students in town, he said.
This fiscal year, Nashoba’s total budget rose 4.2% over 2014/15, to about $52 million, while Stow’s assessment went up 5.2%. (Bolton’s and Lancaster’s assessments each rose by about 3.1%.)

“This is a pretty typical first number that we get,” remarked Lancaster Town Administrator Ryan McNutt regarding the initial proposed assessment hike for next year. But Bolton resident David Lindsay asserted this hike seemed too high, given inflation has been under 1% for the year and Social Security payments to residents have not been increased.

With another Workshop planned for February 8, Romasco stressed that the budget was not final.

More from the Superintendent Search
Romasco also outlined where the SC is in its search for a new superintendent, announcing that SC Reps. Nicole Oderkirk of Stow and Neal Darcy of Bolton would be its two members sitting on the 12-person search committee. Other search committee members will be drawn from Nashoba parents and staff, town administrators, and the general public.

As the SC’s search partner, the MA Assn. of School Committees just finished hosting seven focus groups throughout the district. Romasco said these groups of residents were asked, “What are the qualities you’re looking for in the ideal superintendent?” The findings from these groups will be combined with those from the online questionnaire and given to the search committee, she said.

Later, Romasco mentioned separately that the SC is advertising a salary of $175,000 to $195,000 to potential superintendent candidates. While former Superintendent Michael Wood’s base salary was approximately $169,000, Romasco remarked that additional benefits brought his total compensation up substantially.

Space Task Force Nears End
The Nashoba Regional High School Space Task Force is nearing the end of almost 2 years of work, according to the SC’s Mark Jones of Stow, who also serves on the Task Force. He said the Task Force currently is going through the final process of drafting recommendations to the SC on how to eke out more space at the overcrowded high school. The Task Force likely will want the SC to submit a statement of intent to the MA School Building Authority for potential funding of any recommended renovations before the SOI deadline in April for the current funding cycle, he said.

However, Romasco said the SC may not be ready to send an SOI to the state by that deadline, given Interim Superintendent Dr. Curtis Bates likely needs until late February to review any recommendations. Bolton Town Administrator Donald Lowe agreed, noting that the SC has not yet considered how the costs of the superintendent search and the demographic study being done of the district will impact the school budget.

Minuteman Sees Early Support
Minuteman High School’s push to have its new regional agreement ratified has been a success in its early stages, reported Lancaster’s Jennifer Leone, the town’s representative to the Minuteman School Committee. She noted that Stow, Acton and Arlington approved the Lexington vocational school’s new agreement at Special Town Meetings last week.

The remaining 13 member towns must approve the agreement before March 1 if it is to pass. Leone said she felt the new agreement would be better for most members, given it would distribute capital costs more fairly among the towns. She also noted that, so far, no member’s selectmen have opposed the new agreement.
If the agreement passes, then a proposal to borrow for a $144 million building project for the school will likely follow at regular Town Meetings in the spring. The borrowing cannot be passed unless the agreement is first approved.